THE COMMUNITY gasps in relief and gratitude that "only" one person, reporter Maurice Williams, died in the Hanafi Muslim siege, that most of those injured or stricken seem out of danger, and that the terrorists finally mustered the sense and compassion to let their 134 hostages go. For the good fortune that the toll was not higher and the city's ordeal even more anguishing, immense thank must go to the police, who drew on the store of expertise that has been developed here and abroad to deal with terrorism and calmly and skillfully defused this crisis. To the ambassadors of Egypt, Iran and Pakistan, whose Islamic heritage and diplomatic professionalism and personal courage made the denouement possible, the community's debt is untold.
This act bears a generic similarity to the myriad other domestic and international incidents in which desperate people have used weapons and the media to send a massage otherwise not being widely received. To the extent that these two elements are almost universally available, we are virtually powerless as a society to roll back the tide of terror. But there was also a special aspect to this incident, one reducing it - and by extension reducing other acts of terrorism - to somewhat more manageable dimensions.
This special aspect was highlighted by WTOP newsman Max Robinson in a sensitive commentary (printed on the opposite page) aired while the outcome was still unknown. It was Hanafi leader Hamaas Abudul Khaalis' conviction that the community had never properly appreciated the tragedy of the murder of seven family members of the rival Moslem sect four years ago. During the siege, both Mr. Khaalis, at B'nai B'rith, and his wife, at home, made clear that this lapse was at the core of the gunmen's desperation. In fact, it was precisely by responding directly to Mr. Khaalis' sense of unheeded grievance, Egyptian Ambassador Ghorbal subsequently reported, that he and his colleagues brought the crisis to an end.
"We did not get justice because (the murderers of the family) were not given death," Mrs. Khaalis declared, while her busband was demanding that the men convicted of the murders be brought to him - presumably for execution. Many citizens might sympathize with the despair of a man whose family had been slaughtered. But obviously Mr. Khaalis could not be handed the state's authority ot administer justice, and still less to define it. One lesson would seem to be that the authorities and others in the community must pay close attention to people, and especially groups, 1) on the finges of convention and 2) associated as victims with violence. To be sure, there is potentially an infinite number of people and causes clamoring for attention. The trick is to select out those most likely, if neglected, to take up terror.
The extent to which the established principles and procedures of society must be bent to deal with terrorism is, of course, a hardly less vexing problem for being by now so familiar. Even if one accepts, as we do, that human life is the highest value, excruciating tactical issues remain. This time the tactics of coolness worked: playing for time, letting rapport develop between terrorists and victims, granting lesser demands, initiating negotiations, requesting (and receiving) care from the media, enlisting the prosecutor's cooperation on post-surrender treatment, and so on. Experience to the invincibility of terror, society knows something about ways to limit its immediate effects. But the costs cannot be blinked. These involve not only the shortcuts taken during the crisis but the temptation after the crisis to preemptively crimp the civil liberties of some citizens and to institute security measures that materially affect the quality of our lives.
Its fear of terrorism freshened, the community cannot escape a probing of questions like these. But while this is the right moment to raise the questions, the immediacy of the event makes it the wrong moment to answer them. For now it is enough to mourn the loss of personal life and civic tranquillity, and to thank those who brought the community through its ordeal.