Iceland to the rescue

March 23, 2005

DON'T underestimate the power of chess in Iceland.

Witness the plight of poor Bobby Fischer, the legendary chess champion and malcontent who has been on the run from American authorities since 1992 for violating U.S. sanctions by playing a chess match in Yugoslavia. The jailed 62-year-old chess master has been fighting deportation to the United States since his arrest in Japan last July for traveling on an expired passport.

Enter Iceland, and its offer of citizenship to Mr. Fischer. The scene of Mr. Fischer's triumph over Russian Boris Spassky in 1972, Iceland may be the least-inhabited European country (three people per square mile) but its population of about 278,000 includes nine grand chess masters. The Fischer-Spassky contest - the chess equivalent of the Berlin Wall falling - caused such excitement among Icelanders that it spawned a generation of chess enthusiasts.

Iceland doesn't dole out citizenship freely. But Mr. Fischer's popularity persuaded Iceland's Parliament to extend an offer Monday. Understand this: Not all would welcome Mr. Fischer, a renegade in word and deed.

But it's time for the United States to end its obsession with catching him. Aren't there other fugitives more worthy of our attention? If anyone comes looking for Bobby Fischer, send him to Reykjavik.

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