I think that while their reactions were far too extreme, they are at the same time, entirely understandable from their point of view. I mean I certainly agree that freedom of speech is an inalienable right in the US, and people should be allowed to express themselves. And people living in said countries have to realize that with that right, it means you'll hear things that are offensive. I disagree with all of the rhetoric against gays and gay marriage but I respect their right to express their opinion.
BUT…This is the dark side of the internet and all of the communications technology at our hands. It gives disproportionate power to individuals and allows negativity to flow just as easily across borders. Into areas where freedom of speech is not necessarily a given, and, more importantly, where dissenting opinions that go against the cultural mainstream have far, FAR greater impact.
Look at it like this: you're a Muslim, raised in Syria or Iraq or Libya or Egypt, what-have-you. You went to school. Western nations have been using the Islamic World as staging ground for regional and proxy wars for nearly 200 years and have only gotten fatter from it all. Even now, Europe and the USA come and go as they please for any reason they so choose, and even regional squabbles between Islamic countries have other powers behind the scenes, selling weapons to either or both sides, inciting further conflict or simply saying "you can't do this unless I say so." The Islamic World, by the way, is a very important concept to remember, because Muslims are Muslims first, and members of a nation second. Brothers in Islam (usually).
So, yeah, you're a Muslim in the 21st century. You've grown up with the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, the conflicts in Libya and Egypt, and interventionism in Iran's nuclear program. Everywhere you look, there's the USA sticking it to Muslims. There's the USA funding dictators in Egypt while toppling Iran's democratically elected government. But suddenly, there's the promise of change with Arab Spring revolts happening all over the Islamic World and now you're feeling excited that maybe finally, its time for that nationalist spark to flare brightly and your country to rise up from a backwater of corrupt bloodsucking politicans and wartorn battlefields into a modern, educated nation with a bright future. That nationalistic spark is infectious; all of the disenfranchised youth across the Islamic World see some light at the end of a formerly bleak tunnel into the future and feel they have a voice once more.
And then some dumbass American pastor in Florida burns a Koran, some American soldiers in occupied Afghanistan burn a Koran, and then some guy in Youtube further mock the one thing that brings you peace in this world amidst all this depressing horror, the one thing in common that all these countries being interfered with by America have in common, and oh look, he happens to be an American citizen. This is after all the photos of bombed schools and legless children that we don't see on the sterile US media. And we still have all these enflamed, impassioned people with a new voice, optimistic about their futures, burning with energy and wanting to express it somehow.
Hmmmmm….I think I'd be pretty pissed off with Americans, too.
Being an American, living here, we can say "but most people don't think like that." I don't think the average "insert X Islamic country" has met too many Westerners. They only hear about the bad stuff on the news, just like everybody else, and make their judgments based on that. And you know what, maybe they HAVE met a few Americans and know "most of them really aren't like that at all." Still doesn't mean I can't be pissed as hell off at the government, join a protest and burn me some flags or effigies while not feeling the urge to stab any particular American.
I don't believe anyone seriously thinks the Prophet Muhammad is raging somewhere in Heaven right now because someone casted him poorly in a Youtube video. People are pissed as hell because yet another person from the same country that has predator drones killing civilians as well as insurgents…That same country that fuels regional conflicts by arming Israel and Saudi Arabia…That played both sides in the Iran-Iraq War (after screwing Iran earlier when they thought we were their friends) and is currently engaged in covert war with Iran AGAIN…Yet another person from that country just shit on the lynchpin of their culture. Again.
And put it on Youtube for the entire world to see. It's the natural recourse of centuries of unapologetic cultural rape and humiliation at the hands of politicians playing games with human lives and manipulating the populace of the world like puppets.
So is it right for them to pull out those embassy staff and murder them? Absolutely not. Is it understandable? Absolutely. And it will only get worse as people here do even more inflammatory shit. Forum trolls writ large.