mánudagur, mars 28, 2005

bobby fischer

...just came into the cafe where I was studying Icelandic, surrounded by a media entourage. He couldn't get a table so he left.

For those who haven't been following the "saga", Bobby Fischer was granted Icelandic citizenship last week by special act of the Alþing (Parliament). His shiny new Icelandic passport was effectively a Get Out of Jail Free card for the Japanese government, which had been holding him in detention while they decided what to do with him. His American passport had expired and was unrenewable as the U.S. was (and still is) requesting his return on charges that he illegally visited Yugoslavia in 1992, when travel to that country was banned for U.S. citizens. Fischer arrived in Iceland last Thursday.

Fischer helped put Iceland on the map in 1972 when he defeated Boris Spassky here in a Cold War showdown. The Russian Spassky was the favorite, Fischer the young upstart. The match was the Rocky IV of the chess world. And Iceland has always had a fondness for chess.

Fischer's sudden Icelandic citizenship bothers me for a number of reasons. I am also an American citizen, but unlike Fisher, I came to Iceland to work here and my work directly benefits the Icelandic economy, both through the new products I am creating for my clients here, and in the 39% income tax I am paying to Iceland while I live here. Despite this gainful employment, I and my company must reapply for a new work and residence permit every year for 4 years. At that point I can apply for permanent residence status, for which I must pass a test to show that I am competent in the Icelandic language. And even then I am not a citizen.

By virtue of his notoriety, Fischer, who had previously spent only a couple of weeks in Iceland, does not have to jump through any of these hoops.

Fischer is also a controversial figure, known in recent years for his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Once again, he is shining the spotlight on Iceland, but this time many of the international articles also contain recent quotes of his, trashing the Jewish people (he was born to a Jewish mother) and raining abuse down on the United States and Japan. This is surely not the kind of publicity this peaceful and forward-looking nation needs.

Contrary to international press reports, all the Icelanders I've spoken to believe Mr. Fischer reflects badly on their country and think it very strange that their Parliament made an exception for this man to come here. "He has friends in high places," says one friend. Guess I'd better brush up on my prejudice and my castling.


Blogger JB said...

The Washington Post had this editorial today on the subject:

Shame of Iceland
Monday, March 28, 2005; Page A16

"MR. FISCHER IS a true Icelander now," said Thordur Oskarsson, Iceland's ambassador to Japan, after the tiny island nation's Parliament unanimously voted to confer citizenship upon chess legend Bobby Fischer. The passage of the citizenship act means freedom and sanctuary for Mr. Fischer, who had been detained in Japan for eight months while the United States sought him for violating sanctions against Yugoslavia during the Balkan war. But it also marks a sad day for Iceland, which actively associated itself with a man who has long since left decency behind. Of such true Icelanders we hope there are few.

Mr. Fischer is a hero in Iceland, a chess-loving nation, because his famed 1972 defeat of then-world champion Boris Spassky took place in Reykjavik. This was perhaps the most dramatic moment in the history of competitive chess, and Mr. Fischer's triumphs at the chessboard are beyond dispute. Icelanders may choose to remember the height from which Mr. Fischer fell.

But the Parliament of a democratic nation ought not to ignore the depths to which he has fallen since he walked away from glory. In his years of reclusiveness Mr. Fischer became a raging anti-Semite. In 1992 he defied international sanctions against Yugoslavia by playing a high-profile match there even as the killing was ongoing in Bosnia. On Sept. 11, 2001, he told a Philippine radio station that the attacks in his native country -- not Iceland -- were "wonderful news." He added that he hoped "the country will be taken over by the military, they'll close down all the synagogues, arrest all the Jews and secure hundreds of thousands of Jewish ringleaders." Mr. Fischer, clearly deeply unbalanced, should perhaps be considered a subject of pity, rather than hatred. But he should certainly not be a subject of legislative honor -- not unless his new countrymen want their nation shamed every time this chessman opens his mouth.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

glad to see you're not blinded by his science. I'm rather disappointed with your new found land (haha). sort of like congress
passing a terri schiavo bill. there should be a constitutional
amendment that forbids congress/parliaments from passing laws about specific living people......-jdk

Blogger JB said...

Alex Beam, from the Boston Globe, added his 2 cents today.


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