I do not doubt that people were genuinely affected by the cartoons. Those of us with weaker ties to our supernatural belief systems have trouble empathizing with the anger felt by true believers over violations of their laws and customs. Add to that the "here's the West again, invading our countries, stealing our oil and mocking our religion" dynamic, and the whole thing becomes less puzzling. In the modern multicultural world, most people see something offensive to their beliefs pretty much every day. But these folks are not living in the modern multicultural world, and, given what they've seen of it, can you blame them?
On the other hand, crowds do not appear spontaneously in front of the Danish Embassy. (Quick: Where is the Danish Consulate in San Francisco?) Someone directs them there, someone instructs them that this is a useful way to defend their religion. It's a form of public piety, and I really distrust public piety in all its forms.
Me too, Jon. Me too.
I am not really sure what to think of all this. My first reaction had been to wonder why the eruption -- how was this different from editorial cartoons depicting Jesus, or other religious figures. Then I remembered Islam's prohibition of human depictions, and it made a little more sense. Even given that, I'm somewhat torn. Should American newspapers print them? I really don't know. I am pretty much a free speech absolutist. On the other hand, with that right comes the responsibility to accept that people might not like what you have to say, that they might react to you (speak back, protest, burn down your embassy, etc.). And is it worth inciting more bad feelings within a group that is (rightly, at least in part) pretty upset with us right now anyway? No answers, just questions. I seem to say that a lot when I think about world events these days.