WHENEVER WE HEAR something unflattering about Islam, most Westerners will tend to hear it through the filter of "racism" or "bigotry," and we have a natural, instinctive desire to protect Muslims from unjustified bias and hatred.
We envision lynchings. We don't want to see racial profiling. We don't want interment camps like the Japanese suffered during WWII. Since we see the criticism as bigotry or racism, we can be reflexively opposed to a perfectly normal and legitimate activity in a free country: Political and religious criticism.
One of our most treasured guaranteed rights is the right to talk about, and even criticize, the doctrines of any political or religious group. The fact that it might be offensive to someone is exactly why free speech has to be protected (if it didn't bother anyone, there would be no need to protect it; read more about that here.)
Hopefully you are not a bigot or a racist, but whether you are or not, Islam is not a race or an ethnic group. There are Muslims of every race. There are more non-Arab Muslims than Arab Muslims.
This racial issue is an important reason for all of us to learn more about Islam as soon as possible. Many people who have already learned about some of Islam's most basic principles want to tell others what they've learned, but they find many people don't want to listen, and they've told me it'll take a dirty nuke going off in Chicago or Paris before people will be willing to listen.
But after a tragedy or a major attack, people are angry and afraid, and decisions under those circumstances aren't always the sanest decisions. In times like those, people can overreact. In times like those, they do things like put Japanese people into internment camps. That was a fear-based, ignorant reaction, and it was bigoted and racist.
We can avoid that kind of overreaction if we talk about Islam now, in calmer times. In other words, talking about Islamic teachings now can help prevent racism and bigotry by making sure everyone understands what Islamic teachings are about, and that Islam is a doctrine, not a race, and not all Muslims follow the doctrine.
If even non-racist people think criticizing Islam is racist, it proves an important point. Namely: It is vital for more people to understand Islam.
To put it another way, if someone thinks criticizing Islam is racist, she is demonstrating that she don't understand what Islam is, and illustrating exactly why we need to talk about it and learn about it, because if someone so strongly against racism thinks Islam has something to do with race, then how are racist people going to react if a nuclear weapon goes off in downtown Houston and kills a million people?
The world needs to know about Islam — needs to know what it is and what it is not — and this needs to happen as quickly as possible.