Angry mobs have burned the Danish flag and burned the Danish embassies in Damascus and Beirut. An economic boycott of Danish products is putting a major hit in Danish wallets. And the Syrian Government has snubbed the ambassadors of the Scandinavian nations.
So, while the protests continue (now further inflamed by knockoffs of the original 'toons that make them even more inflammatory), many here in the West are asking "What's all the fuss about some damned drawings?"
Well, here goes.
For starters, it is a tradition in Sunni Islam (the largest, widest-spread and most orthodox of the various Islamic sects) that you do not depict the Prophet. Picturing his face, it is argued, may lead some people to venerate an image, rather like a Catholic might venerate a saint. To a Muslim, that's idolatry, and a sin against Allah. The Sufi and Shia sects are not as strict, hence the widespread depiction of religious leaders such as Ayatollah Khomeini.
Further, most if not all of the countries where these riots are taking place have a long or deeply-rooted history of secularism or freedom of expression. Here in the West we have the Enlightenment and a long history of struggle to express ourselves without being repressed. The best analogy to the shock and anger felt by the average Muslim could be likened to the feelings many religious fundamentalists felt when an artist immersed a crucifix into urine, or another artist accentuated a portrait of Mary with elephant dung. Both acts shocked people by a perceived assault on a very sensitive spot; i.e., religion.
Apologies won't stop this. William Durant once wrote of the Muslims that they were generally good-natured sorts until or unless the Faith was attacked. Then all hell would break loose. He also coined the term that titles this entry.
Murderous certainties. No one's died yet in all this (so far as I've heard), but someone will.
*pboh: "peace be on him," the standard form of benediction bestowed on the Prophet. I'm trying to be nice.