Re: the violence in the Middle East, an excerpt from a recent post on death anxiety:
The link between death anxiety and belief systems (and their symbols) explains why the stakes can seem so high in defense of ideology, political party, national identity, regional identity, race, ethnicity, language, culture, religious books, flags and anthems. All represent personal extensions into transcendent, limitless domains that stand as symbolic bulwarks against mortality.
Seen in this light, blasphemy and desecration of sacred objects are attacks on protections from mortality. The stakes are, in effect, life and death, which is why blasphemy or desecration of a holy book can call for the death penalty (see Talion Principle). One can also imagine that in places where threats against life and limb are more commonplace, crimes against sacred [reassuring] symbols would more likely provoke violent reactions. Emotionally speaking, blasphemy might be like someone trying to cancel your health insurance coverage, while you've got a deadly cancer.
But there is also an unfortunate paradox at the heart of violent retaliation for attacks on immortality symbols. These attacks actually increase death anxiety and, so, increase the need for even more rigid and violent reactions to violations of the sacred.