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Good Reads: Israel's Iran debate, Scalia's 'originalism,' and blasphemy in Pakistan

This week's long-form good reads include the fire and fear driving Israelis' debate about a strike on Iran, a judicial debate with a surprisingly high profile, and the pernicious use of Pakistan law.

By Staff writer / September 7, 2012

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry (l.) the lawyer of a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, talks with other lawyers outside a court proceeding in Islamabad, Pakistan on Friday, Sept. 7.

B.K. Bangash/AP

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While the US media has been in the throes of the presidential campaign over the past few weeks, in Israel the national debate has been squarely focused on whether to launch a preemptive -- and if necessary, unilateral -- strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Writing for The Times of Israel website, David Horovitz draws out both sides’ arguments, and does so in such a way as to capture the passion with which each faction regards the issue. 

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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On one side are Israeli politicians and insiders who see Iran’s progression towards a bomb as an extraordinarily alarming echo of the German progression toward the Holocaust.  They warn: Iran is, very literally, an existential threat to Israel, and alternative solutions to dealing with Iran are wearing thin. If the country is to be safe, they say, Israel must hit Iran hard, even in the face of resistance from the US.

But many of those charged with leading Israel’s defenses – soldiers, security chiefs, and technocrats – argue as strongly against a strike, warning that it might bring about the very end it is meant to prevent. “To these people, [Prime Minister] Netanyahu and [Defense Minister] Barak are deemed to be capable ... of creating the circumstances in which a nuclear Iran really could become unstoppable. By launching an operation to stop Iran, they fear, Israel may end up liberating the Islamic Republic to cast off all constraints and break out to the bomb.”

The strength of Horovitz’s analysis is that it captures not just the rational arguments, but the emotional charge as well.  He gets to the fire and the fear driving both sides, making clear why the debate has so gripped Israel. 

When the legal serf dictates to the king

The American federal judiciary tends to be a low-profile bunch.  With life tenures, federal judges can – and do – eschew the limelight to maintain the veneer of impartial adjudicators. As a result, intrajudiciary debates over judicial philosophy and technique tend to stay in the halls of academia and the courtrooms, and out of the streets and sidewalks where they would draw the public eye.  And when they do occur in the courtrooms, they tend to be one-sided: Higher courts dictate to lower, and it is not for lower courts to question what they are told.

That is what makes Judge Richard Posner’s review in The New Republic of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s new book, “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts,” so interesting: it inverts the usual procedure, and in a very public way.

Justice Scalia is one of the most influential conservative jurists of the modern era, being the leading proponent of “textual originalism,” the philosophy of interpreting laws according to what the words of the law meant at the time that they were written.  “Reading Law,” cowritten with Bryan A. Gardner, is an explanation of the textual originalist philosophy.  And as a Supreme Court justice, Scalia tends to get the final word on the law.

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