Thanks for a great post, Kate! I am Muslim, my first post here. Just my two-cents worth:
You say, “…no matter what the Prophet had been like centuries ago – and he wasn’t the way he is usually depicted in the West.” I would like to add, neither did he look or resemble in any way near what these cartoons depict him. I therefore am not offended by the cartoons, because it isn’t the Prophet Muhammad in those cartoons – there is no “Eggless” omelet, period.
What someone thinks of Islam, is simply their prerogative. I know what Islam is, what it does for me, and what it instructs me of my life conduct. I live it everyday. It has never, ever instructed me to be violent. On the contrary, it has always fostered in me to live a vibrant and robust life, and to solve my difficulties head-on. A balance between the physical world, and the spiritual.
But I can see how a life lived in angst can drive ANYONE to concoct their own cure-it-all solution to their condition. These violent acts are just that. Desperation. Hopelessness. Desolation. And constant marginalization from politicians, movies, and social media. Add cultural stigmas to mental health issues and you have a powder keg waiting for a spark, even though the stigma is a far more benign state than the violence that results. We have seen similar, albeit on a smaller scale, but similar dynamics at play in the violence that results from bullying in our schools.