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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.

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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.

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