Fair warning: this node contains not much other than (gasp) opinion!
Seriously, this isn't a news-related or factual node, so if you're looking for those, head out now.
As the scale of the disasters in New York, Washington D.C. and in our collective psyche settles around us in a miasma of anger, shock and fear, there is a component of the attack that we must, as of right now, begin to guard against which hasn't been addressed in the popular media. We must be vigilant starting now; we must be sensitive starting now. The risk if we do not? That we'll end up just like those that carried out this horror, or worse.
The natural reaction of a polity to this type of event is (as mentioned above) shock, horror, and anger. The people of the United States will demand justice for this catastrophe, no doubt, and cooler heads than I have already warned about the dangers of making assumptions and perpetuating the cycle of violence. I, myself, am wrestling with my revulsion at further death, my fears of escalation, and my desire to see some motherfucker killed, preferably slowly, for what he (they) did to my country, my city, and my people. This is where a great deal of the danger in this attack lies.
In the near future, we will see the inevitable reactions begin to set in. Airport security will become even more intrusive. Weapons will be more visible to Americans than they have been. The military will become a more common day-to-day sight. Laws and regulations will appear intended to protect us from further attacks.
That's the problem.
As I see it, we need to keep a very, very careful eye not only on the rest of the world, but (perhaps more importantly) on our own reactions. Our system of government and social order is (ostensibly) based on a set of beliefs and assertions laid out in a series of much revered documents, some old, some less so. In our rush to achieve greater safety, we run the risk of damaging the very foundations of the system which we are trying to protect, perhaps (in extremis) irreparably. How? A moment's thought in a calm time will give you the answers.
How plausible is it to imagine a suspension of the basic rights of Americans in response to this? Yup, not very plausible at all. However, it is quite plausible to imagine a series of encroachments on those rights, which individually can be easily passed as security-enhancing, and only when taken together show the damage they are doing. For example, an increase in police powers regarding habeas corpus. A slight shift towards liberal interpretations of the phrase "unwarranted search and seizure." A few actions that were once innocuous appearing on the books as crimes. Extension of governmental authority into areas from which it was once barred.
These are the things that, if we allow them to happen, will mean that the bastards who did this to us and the world have won. If we lose that which makes us a reasonably united, compassionate people (and make no mistake, we are, in sum) then the loss might even outshine the losses we've already suffered. If it becomes easier to acquire a search warrant against a person of Arab descent, as opposed to the general populace, we lose. If it becomes permissible for the military or intelligence organizations or even police units to keep us isolated, away from friends, counsel, and even charges, then we all suffer. Our country shivers and shudders a little.
So please, as a personal entreaty, I beg of you - as intellectual human beings, those of you that care about what America means (and not all of you are American, I know) please vow to watch carefully when such changes are proposed and/or implemented. Every time a legal change occurs, think about your freedoms. Don't think about the terrorist's; they threw theirs away in an attempt to poison yours. Think, carefully, if what you are evaluating affects your ability to say with confidence that you will be proud to turn this country over to your children.
Don't let the bastards grind you down.