Moderate voices have emerged amid the debate and the violence. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora said Sunday that "this is absolutely not the way we express our opinions." And Mohammad Rashid Qabani, Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim cleric, said Muslims must exercise restraint. "We don't want the expression of our condemnation [of the cartoons] to be used by some to portray a distorted image of Islam," he said.
The world's leading Islamic body also rejected the violence. "Overreactions surpassing the limits of peaceful democratic acts ... are dangerous and detrimental to the efforts to defend the legitimate case of the Muslim world," said the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Last week, the editor of a Jordanian newspaper chastized his fellow Muslims in an editorial. "What brings more prejudice against Islam? These caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?" asked Jihad Momani.
But Mr. Momani has since been fired and arrested. The newspaper was removed from newsstands.
The outrage has grown from a base of preexisting issues, including frustration over perceived discrimination against Muslims in Europe, say some experts.
"This is not about the cartoons themselves. There was a lot of tension between the West and Muslims because of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine," says Mr. Shehadi. "This is just the spark that set it off."
While much attention has focused on the principle of free speech, the increasingly bitter dispute has raised questions about whether Europe is consistent in applying its aggressive hate-crimes laws.
"In the Arab world, there is a feeling that Europeans' freedom of expression is selective," explains Obeida Nahas, director of thisissyria.net, a Syrian opposition website. "There is a feeling that Europeans secretly hate Muslims."