I've been reading the news about the editorial cartoons and the Muslim reaction, and then about the reaction of "the West" (in that monolithic sense).
Especially in the English speaking west, say the UK and the US, there seems to be a strong current of befuddlement about why Muslims find the cartoons offensive. CNN even has a little video entitled, "Why won't Muslims draw Mohammed's face?" (I may or may not have successfully managed the video link; if I didn't, or if it's time sensitive and goes empty fast, I apologize.)
As is obvious from my little side bar, I'm an early modernist Shakespeare type, so I tend to study early modern England, including that period of history when English protestants found graphic representations of prophets, saints (oh, yeah, especially saints!), and Jesus/God so threatening that they destroyed statues and paintings in fairly large numbers. This was a time when the stakes were high for religious belief in England, and subsequently among English colonists in the US, so people were punished severely for advocating the "wrong" beliefs.
I want to ask protestants, who make up a fairly large part of the US population, what they know about early protestantism.
And I want to ask them why so very many protestants are willing to put up Santa Claus images when their religious ancestors wouldn't allow any saintly images. All that "no craven images" stuff went where?
Why did protestants find representing God/Jesus on stage so threatening that they banned Corpus Christi dramas?
If we look back, I think we can find in our own history a sense of how threatening and dangerous graphic representations are, and maybe we should use some self-knowledge to temper our response to Muslim outrage?
My response isn't all that tempered, I'm afraid. Political cartoons and satire are supposed to challenge our ideas and understandings, our ideologies. Yes, they can be offensive. But they make us think, at least they should.
You want some really offensive material, go read Foxe's recounting of the deaths of Latimer and Ridley. Religious prosecution and hate sucks whether it's Catholic against protestant, protestant against Catholic, Christian against Jew, or Muslim against Christian.
(You know when you hear people try to put pain on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the worst you can imagine? 10 for me is Latimer and Ridley. If I have to be burned alive, please please please someone make sure my gunpowder necklace goes off fast!)