Okay, this is going to be my last 'serious' post for the week. Promise. It's not that I'm having a particularly sincere week or anything - it's just that I feel that I can't let the whole Who Framed Muhammad the Terrorist thing go by without saying something about it.
Here's my two cents worth then. In this whole cartoon controversy (which would be ridiculous if it weren't so scary) the one question that's not getting asked enough, in my opinion, is this - what are hordes of people in the Middle East doing reading Danish newspapers in the first place?
Look, I'm not trying to defend the cartoonist or the editor - if only because I think the cartoons themselves were so not funny. Which is not to say the editor was wrong to publish them, just stupid; an error, in my opinion, not of ethics or even judgement but simply of taste.
That being so, everyone seems to be assuming that it was only natural that the cartoons would cause the kind of outrage that they have. Maybe I'm just naive, but I don't see why. I mean it's not like this is some mainstream international publication we're talking about (I'm willing to bet that half these protesters couldn't point to Denmark on a map) and it is just a stupid cartoon for crying out loud.
The point is not that the people in the Middle East are overreacting, the point is that they're clearly being made to overreact. If we assume that most people living in Egypt and Afghanistan don't read Danish newspapers with their morning coffee, then someone is taking the trouble to find this one obscure set of cartoons, make an issue out of them, and stir up a whole bunch of people to protest against them, many of whom, I'm willing to bet, haven't even seen the cartoons in question. These are not spontaneous protests, they are carefully orchestrated acts of violence put together by a malevolent system intent on destruction for its own political ends. The people actually protesting (and dying) in the streets may be genuinely outraged (though who knows what levels of misinformation their outrage stems from ) but they are merely pawns in a larger game - and in that sense are the true victims of this travesty.
If we're going to make sense of these events, we need to look beyond the actual protesters to the people who are spreading and amplifying this malice. In the debate between freedom of press and 'public' outrage, the role of these professional troublemakers has been largely ignored, but it's that role that we most critically need to understand. If the editors of the newspaper are guilty of anything, it is only of providing fuel to this propaganda machine . That's what makes this whole episode so scary - the fact that so complete a non-issue can so easily be manipulated into becoming an international incident; that so insignificant a spark can be made to explode in the combustible atmosphere of the Middle East. Blaming either the protesters or the media is not the answer - finding out how we can stop political interests in the region from using the headstrongness of one and the desperation of the other to their own advantage is.
 I'm fascinated, for instance, by the process by which the blame for the cartoons has spread from one individual newspaper to all of Denmark, and from there to America and her allies. I feel the Danish should protest this as an insult to their nation. Having your favourite prophet made fun of may be fairly offensive, but surely being accused of electing Bush to power is much worse.
 The fact that these protests have sprung up right around the time that a prominent state in the region is the focus of intense scrutiny over its alleged nuclear program may just be coincidence, of course. Then again, it might not.