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Analysis: Lessons of Europe's history with terrorism

And why Americans have such a hard time accepting them.

A woman walks past graffiti on a wall in London, June 2, 2008. The long experience of terrorism around the continent produces a sanguine attitude among Europeans toward deal-making following terrorist atrocities. Many Europeans would prefer Americans realize that the goal of terrorists is to disrupt society and that the best way to deal with it is to carry on with life as normal. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

LONDON — The Scottish Parliament was recalled from its summer holidays Monday for an emergency debate on the government's decision to release convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on "compassionate grounds." The dying 57-year-old returned home to a hero's welcome in Libya. 

The expressions of outrage from the United States, first from the families of the victims and then by President Barack Obama and most recently by FBI director Robert Mueller, raised a squall over the Atlantic. Scotland's opposition members of Parliament felt the need to add to the clamor. Scottish Justice minister Kenny MacAskill, using almost exactly the same words he used last Friday, sought to justify his decision again this week.

But the focus of the debate increasingly is on what deal over access to Libya's oil reserves the governments of the U.K. and Libya may or may not have struck in advance of MacAskill's decision. That the question is being asked is a sign of the sophistication — and the cynicism — of the public in Scotland and the rest of the U.K.  

People here and in the rest of Europe understand in a way most Americans do not that deals get done with terrorists all the time. This isn't done to reward terrorists for their actions. It is done for reasons of political expediency. Example: In October of 1993, an IRA bomber blew up a fish-and-chips shop on the Shankill Road in the heart of protestant Belfast. Nine people including the bomber were killed and 50 were wounded. Following tradition, Gerry Adams, who is the leader of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, acted as a pallbearer at the bomber's funeral. The outrage expressed by the United Kingdom at Adams dwarfed anything associated with the Lockerbie case.

A few weeks later news reports hinted the British government had been involved in secret talks with the IRA.  

The British prime minister at the time, John Major, told Parliament it would turn his stomach to speak to such people ... not as much as his stomach turned when the news reports turned out to be true.  

Yet without those secret talks there would have been no IRA ceasefire, no Good Friday Agreement and Martin McGuinness, former IRA commander in Derry, would not be Northern Ireland's deputy first minister.

Along the way all paramilitary prisoners on both sides of the Northern Ireland divide, many of them convicted murderers, were released; each one to a howl of pain from the families and friends of their victims. And many of them with celebrations among their supporters that did not look much different from the welcoming received by al- Megrahi on the tarmac in Tripoli.