I don't think this was a hard call: I think we can pretty much agree that book burning is probably a bad idea, and something that seems, instinctively, not the American way.
What's harder, I think, is the continuing sense that anti-Muslim sentiment in America is, right now, gaining ground, and no one seems to have a good answer for stopping it. It's unnerving, not that the book burning wound up careening into the national conversation, but that even now, there's a weird ambivalence to Pastor Jones announced plan to burn the Koran. As if, in some universe, that was explicable. Or defensible.
So he's backed off, tying his own quixotic decision making to the by-no-means-parallel situation in New York, saying that the planners of Park51 agreed to move the site if he called off the book burning. That already seems to be quite untrue, but really, any fig leaf will do when calling it off.
This isn't, in the end, about the potential for uprisings in Afghanistan or Pakistan or other Middle Eastern countries. The problem with burning books is about what it says about a society, our society, the one that nearly did the burning. It's the frightening potential to burn ideas, of agreeing to the proposition that books are dangerous (though you could more likely convince me about a problem with, say, Danielle Steele's novels... but that's neither here nor there). How did we wind up here? And how, really, will we ever find our way back?
Happily, this piece affords me the opportunity to quote one of my favorite poets (aside from my best friend J), Adrienne Rich, who I found in college (unlike J, who I found shortly thereafter). This poem, the first I read, was one which profoundly moved me, challenged me, and enriched my thinking. This is the fifth and final section of "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children":
I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton's. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor's language.