In some ways this is a manufactured controversy, but the principle of the right to a free press is the most important thing at stake. This includes freedom from both government and vigilante assault.
Outraged Muslims ought not to kill, nor threaten to kill, moviemakers, novelists, and cartoonists. They should feel free to boycott the newspapers that publish the cartoons, to hold peaceful protests, and to write angry letters to editors.
If you don't want to get people mad, you have to be careful about making fun of their beliefs. If you do want to get people mad, it's pretty easy, because most people believe some pretty incredible things.
I want to say a word in favor of Muslims. I have known a fair number of them, and they seem to be largely reasonable people. Let it be said, they were American Muslims. They were committed to classic American values of free speech and civilized discussion. I recognize that the world's religions are not exactly equivalent, but Islam and Christianity and Judaism are all close relatives theologically. I don't think there is a special difficulty concerning Muslim beliefs.
I think the union of religion and state is an unholy marriage. Unfortunately, in most "Muslim countries" there is exactly such a union, with the state taking the form of a dictatorship, and with the established religion taking a fanatical bent. I would say there is something about such set-ups that seems to encourage religious fanaticism. Part of it might be that when your material opportunities are stifled, your thoughts may turn to mystical fantasies and dreams of revenge against enemies real or imagined.
It would certainly be great
If some of these places could separate
Mosque and state.