Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Iceland! ...There's the allure, and then there's Fischer...

I'm enthralled with Iceland. I want to know the history and the literature, I want to learn the language, and I definitely want to go there. I want to spend some time there, explore the place, and really experience it.

I think a lot of it has to do with the combination of culture and civilization with rugged isolation. I have a lot of sympathy, at least geographically, for the attitude expressed by the man on the poles Arthur meets in Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless:
'A beach house,' he said, 'doesn't even have to be on the beach. Though the best ones are. We all like to congregate,' he went on, 'at boundary conditions.'

'Where land meets water. Where earth meets air. Where body meets mind. Where space meets time. We like to be on one side, and look at the other.'

I yearn to go to islands--not (principally) the ones in the Carribean and Hawaii and such, but the semi-obscure ones, such as the Isle of Wight, the Galapogos, Easter Island, and the Falkland Islands. Iceland is foremost among all these. With the cold comes warmth (hot springs, geothermal engergy, all that). With the remoteness there is also civilization and culture--though I don't know how I'd cope with the cuisine, at least while sober. (Incidentally, I'm starting on The Sagas of the Icelanders [ has it cheaper] and am enthused--intrigued verging on fascinated.)

So I was disappointed when I read this editorial from the Washington Post [try bugmenot for the login problem], entitled the Shame of Iceland [try here if the Post archives their copy or something], which gives a bit of an idea of what a vile person Fischer is and discusses the Post's disapproval of Iceland's gift of citizenship to him, rescuing him from extradition to the U.S. to be tried for violating economic sanctions against Yugoslavia in 1992.

It's an editorial I immediately agreed with and still have a lot of sympathy for, but I can also see the side of the more supportive view in this blog post, wherein it's essentially argued that, reprehensible though he may be, Fischer probably didn't bring all that much benefit or wealth to Slobodan Milosevic, so how desperately does he need to be punished? Also supportive of Icelandic citizenship for Fischer is Charles Krauthammer, who in the April 26 issue of Time magazine says,
Bobby Fischer is back in Iceland, and that is as it should be. Fischer put Iceland on the map for the first time since the Vikings happened by. And Iceland put Fischer on the map, providing the venue for his greatest triumph, the 1972 world chess championship. That was before he fell off a psychic cliff.

Krauthammer also calls Iceland, "the only place that appreciates his genius enough to take pity on his madness," which I find wonderfully put but to which I think it's worth adding, "and to overlook the sanctions he violated."

Meanwhile, a more complex picture of the Icelandic people's view of Fischer's new citizenship can be found here. It's highly worth reading.

A related point in that last-mentioned article I find interesting and somewhat off-putting is the apparent contradiction between the remark by Illugi Gunnarsson, political adviser to former Prime Minister David Oddsson, that "In my opinion, the statements are wrong, but in a free society people have the right to express their opinions" (certainly true) and the law referenced in the later quote, "Public racism is not allowed in Iceland. A man was recently convicted of writing racist comments about blacks." Other Icelanders should no more be prosecuted for bigoted remarks than should Fischer. I'm not advocating racism at all, but you can't outlaw speech just because it's wrong, wretched, and contemptible and still, by Gunnarsson's principle above, call yours a fully free society.


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