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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.

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But Judge Posner – one of the foremost conservative legal scholars in the country and an appellate court judge for the Seventh Circuit -– takes the justice to task with a comprehensive dismantling of the rationales Scalia presents in favor of textual originalism.  Posner highlights instance after instance of Scalia foregoing originalist readings of laws when they lead to unappealing outcomes, and instead adopting legal approaches that he has previously reviled.

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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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“Justice Scalia has called himself in print a ‘faint-hearted originalist,’ ” concludes Posner. “It seems he means the adjective at least as sincerely as he means the noun.”

It should be noted that while Posner and Scalia have exchanged extrajudicial criticism in the past, Posner told legal blog Above the Law that "There is no personal animosity between Justice Scalia and me, or at least not on my side."

"I suppose it’s unusual for a lower court judge to criticize judicial or extra-judicial work by a Supreme Court Justice in public," he said, but he noted that he is a former academic, "to whom disagreement in print, without personal animosity having engendered it, comes naturally."

Posner’s review is far from the final word, of course; it has naturally spurred further stout defenses of Scalia and originalism. But agree or disagree with Posner, his review is worth a look just for the rare sight of the serf dictating to the king. 

Pakistan's pernicious use of blasphemy laws

Pakistan’s ban on blasphemy is a pernicious beast, warns author Mohammed Hanif in a commentary for The Guardian, as it defies being explained.  You can’t give examples of it “because reproducing it ... would constitute blasphemy.”

But Mr. Hanif does an admirable job of sketching out the scope of Pakistan’s laws against blasphemy, and how they are largely used as clubs against rivals and minorities, like Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl recently – and apparently falsely – accused of defiling a Quran by Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, an imam with an ax to grind against Christians. 

Among the everyday situations that have led to the laws being invoked: misspellings by students, writing a poem for children, refusing someone a drink of water, and throwing away a salesman’s business card (the salesman had Muhammad as part of his name).

“All you need to do to condemn someone for life is to switch on a mosque loudspeaker and make the allegation,” Hanif writes. “Before Chishti was caught in his own trap in the Rimsha case, no accuser had ever been arrested or tried. The laws against hate speech are weak, and almost never implemented. And how can it be considered hate speech when all they are doing is expressing their faith that might include demanding death for all Shias and Ahmedis, and an occasional Christian who may or may not have crossed the line.”

It doesn’t have to be this way, Hanif suggests.  “Before the current law came into existence, in 60 years there were six reported cases of blasphemy. Since the current law was constituted there have been more than four thousand.” But the powerful catch-22 of the law is hard to overcome, he adds.  “[E]ven pleading the statistics is considered blasphemous.”

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