The marchers in Kabul last week were in their teens and early 20s, the kind of zealous, energetic youths Westerners might have hoped would be clamoring for democracy or human rights. Instead, the cause of their protest was caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, first published last September by a Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten, which in the past two weeks have provoked Muslims around the world to denounce not just the offending illustrators but also French newspaper editors, Norwegian diplomats, U.S. troops in Iraq and peddlers of Danish food. In Kabul the protest signs read DEATH TO DENMARK and DEATH TO THOSE WHO PUBLISH CARTOONS. A stuffed pig meant to represent Denmark was burned, along with a Danish flag. "We are all willing to sacrifice ourselves," said Qasi Nazir, 20. "We are calling for the death of Jews and Christians." On the side of the road, a teenager wearing a blue winter hat watched the marchers. "It's democracy, no?" he asked before heading into the crowd.
It is, of a sort, and protesters like those in Kabul have a message for the West: Get used to it. Across the Islamic world, daily demonstrations of varying size and intensity have brought hundreds of thousands into the streets--some driven as much by disgruntlement as by religious fervor, but many others motivated by genuine outrage at the perceived desecration of the most revered figure in Islam. Yet even for Westerners sympathetic to Muslims' right to vent their anger, the mayhem that marked the protests last week was as unsettling as the cartoons themselves. A day after mobs in Damascus torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies, rioters set fire to the Danish consulate in Beirut; Iranians hurled gasoline bombs at Denmark's embassy in Tehran and smashed the windows of Austria's. In Afghanistan a protest outside a U.S. military base left two people dead after local police opened fire on the crowd; nine more people died in similar clashes around the country. A Taliban leader reportedly offered 100 grams of gold to anyone who killed the cartoonists. It wasn't hard to find potential takers. "The word Islam is derived from peace. You cannot just go and attack people," says Walid el-Sallab, 23, student-union president at the American University in Cairo, who organized a peaceful rally against the cartoons. "But honestly, I feel that if I were to see the Danish Prime Minister, I might kill him myself without thinking."