I left dangling the claim made by Saba Mahmood (and of course similar claims have been made by many others) that such phenomena as the Danish cartoons involve an element of "racism", and so do not deserve our sympathy.
The thought here is that racism extends beyond dubious biological notions of race to include hostility to groups marked by religious and cultural characteristics. This characterization tends to undermine the value of satire directed at Islam, or at radical forms or manifestations of Islam, associating it with mere racial slurs. Concomitantly, it suggests that we should be unsympathetic to free-speech-based defences of such things as the Danish cartoons, in the face of violence, government condemnation, legislation, etc.
This issue won't go away, and it needs to be addressed with a bit more focus than I've given it so far. Islam is, of course, not a "race," or even an ethnicity. It is a belief system that posits an otherwordly order, with an almighty god (Allah) and numerous other supernatural beings, such as angels, Satan, and demons; a means of spiritual transformation (via submission to Allah); an eschatology (with Hell, Paradise, and a final judgment); and associated rituals and canons of conduct. Nothing in this is confined to any specific "race", and of course Islam has many millions of followers all over the world, the largest number in Indonesia. How, then, is satire directed at Islam, or at its iconic figures and symbols, in any way comparable to racism?
Perhaps the comparison can be made to stick, but Mahmood does little beyond suggesting that religion, like biology or ancestry, is not simply a matter of choice. That is obviously true. Well, it's obvious to me: religion is, in very many cases, a matter of socializsation from parents and other elders in one's community, rather than a matter of individual judgment based on the seemingly superior evidence for one or another set of claims ("Jesus was the Son of God," "Muhammad was God's prophet," etc.).
But what follows? The true contrast with race is not that race is unchosen, whereas religion is unproblematically chosen - clearly it isn't, at least in typical cases. It is that racism is not, generally speaking, based on objections to doctrines, associated practices, and canons of conduct. Even where racism has been fueled by doctrinal disagreements, as with Christian anti-Semitism, it is possible to distinguish between doctrinal disagreement and racial hatred. Admittedly, some dislike of Islam, or impatience with Muslims and their spiritual leaders, may have a quasi-racist character, grounded in parochialism and xenophobia, and perhaps a dislike of Arabs in particular. But Islam also contains ideas, and in a liberal democracy these are fair targets for criticism or repudiation.
Religious doctrines influence the social and political attitudes of their adherents in ways that merit public comment (favorable or otherwise), and many religious leaders and organizations exert vast power. It is in the public interest that all this be subjected to monitoring and criticism. By contrast, nothing like this applies to the category of "race."
Even if some attacks on Islam are motivated by something like racist thinking, which may very well be the case, it doesn't follow that that's the sole motivation. In other cases, it may not figure in the motivation at all, or may play only a negligible part. There are independent and legitimate reasons why some people might wish to criticize Islam, or certain forms of Islam, or to express hostility towards it. These relate to their disapproval of various doctrines, canons of conduct, associated cultural practices, and so on, and to the power wielded by its leaders and organizational structures. Expressions of disapproval cannot simply be dismissed, a priori, with the assumption that they are improperly motivated.
Moreover, opponents of Islam, or some of its forms, cannot reasonably be expected to keep quiet when accused of racism or the quasi-racism of "Islamophobia." Such accusations are likely to inflame passions, even if they intimidate some individuals into silence. Moreover, the state is not well placed to tease apart motivations: since Islam, particularly its more aggressively political forms, attracts hostility because of its ideas and its impact on the world, the state has little choice but to take anti-Islamic critique and satire at face value.
Accusations of racism, or something similar, may have some truth when applied to some of Islam's opponents, but they do not provide a good basis for suppressing, demonising, or marginalising anti-Islamic speech. Indeed, any state policy that equated hostility to Islam with racism, suppressing some speech and demonising the speakers, would tend to add to resentments against Islam in Western socities.
We do well, perhaps, to scrutinize ourselves as individuals, to be alert to possible racism, even unconscious, as part of our motivational set. That, however, is no reason for the state, or for any of us, to treat anti-Islamic satire as an ipso facto worthless form of speech with an improper motive behind it.