Here in Europe, we have a tradition of having two 'authorities' to complain about. Parties that have kicked our individual asses and caused a lot of problems. Not everybody, not even most people, agrees with my assesment, namely government and church*. But still it is there, within our culture to complain about those two parties, if they ever do reach out and do bad enough things. It was the time of enlightenment that brought these ideas into light and very much delegitimized church and government as institutions of authority (which does not say that it succesfully delegitimized them as institutions, but only as authorities).
People are apt to complain about government and about church, if they do anything that goes past their bounds. We have also developed a culture where free criticism of these institutions is important, accepted, and any attepmt to silence such criticism is met with harsh condemnation (again not by everybody, but by many enough to say that it is part of our culture).
In contrast, the people in most Islamic countries have grown up with three different classes of authority. The church, the government (which are sometimes almost one and the same), and the western world. Through past centuries, western countries have ruled many of the islamic areas with force of arms.
Therefore, the situation becomes more complex, unfortunately. The westerners react to Islam, as they would to any religion trying to impose its belief system upon non-believers. Mohammed cartoon episode is a great example of this reaction. Ridiculing the religion who asserts authority has been the important western way of delegitimizing the authority of a religion that is pushing itself too far - in our opinion. So far so good.
But from muslim perspective, it is not a battle between people trying to rid themselves from the authority of church, but a western world that is trying to impose its authority upon the islamic world (the church). The image of the case becomes, not a fight of people trying to rid themselves of the authority, but a fight between one authority trying to impose over another authority.
So our perspective of the situation greatly differs from the perspective of the muslim world. The problem then becomes, how can we get to a world, where we can ridicule a religion that is trying to impose its authority and nose where it does not belong and where the muslim world does not look upon that as western imperialism.
It's a hard problem to solve, but if we don't manage to solve it, we will either have to get used to a lot of muslim world having hostile reactions to criticism of Islam, or to get used to not criticising it. Neither of the solutions is preferable, thus it is important to figure out ways of proceeding towards better future. As an optimist, I think it is possible - world is, in many ways, what we make of it. And even more importantly, what problems we choose to see and solve.
* I should probably add the 'invisible hand' or the 'free market' as another 'authority' in the discussion, but I will omit it here, firstly because it is not relevant to our discussion here and because the free market is an idea, not a group of people and the invisible hand does not have a spokesman who would speak on his behalf - after all it is an aggregate of all the individual decisions we do on the statewide (global) marketplace. (Though in some ways the hatred over the 'authority' of free market and the hand resembles the hatred of the 'authority' of the western world.)