Or so goes the Western thinking on the cartoons in question.
This article from the dreaded National Review points out that Muhammad has been shown in portraits all through Muslim history. That should be the counterargument in the current brouhaha, not an insistence of the "right" to bait someone else with cartoons. (Let's be frank---offense was definitely intended by them.) It's one thing to have some respect for a religion (which is really for the people who believe in it), quite another to give relativistic tolerance to the crazies' own interpretations of it.
If this clash of civilizations, and it is indeed one, is going to be kept from becoming a full-scale war, it's going to be up to those in the West to study up and engage Islam on its own terms. Hopefully, there's enough liberalism in its history to build on and enable it to turn the corner from the implacable enemy of Western Civilization to something that won't kill us or necessitate us killing them.
(A new scholarly approach to the Qur'an is discussed here. It is imperative that it or something like it succeed.)
My favorite GK Chesterton quote is "reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it."
Beating Muslims about the head to teach them the absolute value of free speech rights shows a lack of prudence if not outright brutishness. If Muslims are willing to die for their faith (and they are), then faith is a matter of life and death, on a higher plane than the exercise of "rights." (I say this because I myself am not inclined to die for the right to publish aggressively offensive cartoons, but more importantly, I am certainly not willing to kill for it. But there are things for which I would do both.)
The West's exercise of the right to publish unflattering cartoons of Muhammad is consistent with its worship of reason. But to the Muslim mind, where faith is more important than life itself, and where personal identity, honor and dignity are inextricably linked with that faith, it is an unspeakable violence, as real as any violence in this world. Unless we are willing to kill and die for these cartoons to match the commitment on the other side, perhaps we ought to take a breath here.
One need not respect faith in order to respect the reality of the situation. The West uses pictures of Muhammad as a truncheon at its own peril, not so much for the threat of retaliation, but for the loss of opportunity. Better to learn the language of Islam, engage it as it understands itself, and find out if there's any way we can learn to share this earth. The hideous alternative will always remain, looming.