I’d been out of internet contact for 10 days or so and hadn’t seen the cartoons that supposedly gave rise to all the delayed Muslim outrage. When I did I was startled by how mild they were. A few of them seemed likely to offend: one that made the Islamic crescent look like horns on Mohammed’s head, and a couple that depicted the prophet as violent and oppressive. One of the latter showed the kalima, the “there is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet,” as a sort of stencil on a bomb.
No doubt upsetting to a believer, at least if it’s his local paper, but certainly not the sort of thing that for any normal human being would justify riot, arson and murder hundreds of miles away. Apparently Muslims quite generally agree: when an Egyptian paper republished the cartoons in October, shortly after they first appeared, they passed without noticeable response, and the story didn’t take off until some imams resident in Denmark went on a road trip in the Arab world showing people irrelevant but far more offensive images (reproduced here, here, and here).
Under the circumstances it is impossible to understand why Muslim states are demanding (and getting) Western apologies rather than the reverse. Slander, arson and murder are worse than mild caricatures that in fact don’t much bother Muslim third parties. While you should apologize where apology is due, it’s hard to see why it’s due here, except conceivably by the paper itself to local readers whom it offended. Even that is doubtful: Islam is a world force that’s quite often violent and oppressive, and it has to be legitimate to comment on the matter. Above all, you don’t apologize to an abusive bully in the hopes he’ll stop being abusive if you go along with the hatreds and fantasies he uses to justify his outrageous conduct.