The million dollars (or euros, pounds, or what have you) question. And the answer:
The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics.
The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.
And the sad reality (from the same article):
And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.
That link goes to an excellent post by Bruce Schneier, one that more people should be aware of. It explains why taking away people’s freedom is not a proper response to terrorism (nor an effective one, at that). This last ideia is further developed here:
One problem with securing the nation is the scope of the threat. Terrorists can attack airplanes, sports stadiums, water reservoirs, power plants, chemical storage facilities – the possibilities are endless. Securing the air transportation system isn’t much of a solution, because countermeasures that aren’t comprehensive are of limited value: If you want to defend targets, you have to defend them all. Protect half the reservoirs and the others will still be at risk. Protect all of them, and the sports stadiums are still vulnerable.
From the same post, comes the following:
The only effective way to deal with terrorists is through old-fashioned police and intelligence work – discovering plans before they’re implemented and then going after the plotters themselves. Every arrest of an al Qaeda member weakens the organization. Every country that’s unwilling to harbor such individuals interferes with its operation. Of course, we still need some perimeter defenses around airports and government buildings. But more damage was done to al Qaeda by disrupting its funding and communications than by all the guards and ID checks in the US combined.
Both posts are strongly recommended reading. As a final note, the last post starts by putting some proportion around the WTC bombings:
Terrorist attacks are very rare. So rare, in fact, that the odds of being the victim of one in an industrialized country are almost nonexistent. And most attacks affect only a few people. The events of September 11 were a statistical anomaly. Even counting the toll they took, 2,978 people in the US died from terrorism in 2001. That same year, 157,400 Americans died of lung cancer, 42,116 in road accidents, and 3,454 from malnutrition.
Makes one wonder, does it not? But then again, proportions mean what they mean. Joseph Stalin put it best:
The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic