"By Alex Beam, Globe Columnist | March 29, 2005
REYKJAVIK -- I happened to be vacationing here when chess legend Bobby Fischer flew into town. Fischer was, is -- perhaps ever shall be -- the biggest thing to hit modern Iceland. Because of his dramatic 1972 world championship chess upset of Boris Spassky at Reykjavik's Exhibition Hall, Fischer enjoys a status here rivaling only that of Leif Ericson, the famous Norwegian explorer hailed as a ''son of Iceland' for chauvinistic purposes.
The newest ''son of Iceland,' a freshly minted citizen created by a quick vote of the Icelandic parliament, was very much on display last week. ''Fischer Comes Home' was the improbable rubric used by Icelandic television for its saturation coverage of the prodigal hero's progress from his Tokyo detention cell to a luxury hotel in Reykjavik.
The story line is broadly familiar: Persecuted by small-minded US bureaucrats for violating United Nations sanctions against Yugoslavia -- Fischer played Spassky there in a 1992 rematch -- the chess hero had been run to ground in Japan, which was on the verge of extraditing him to the United States. But plucky little Iceland rescued Fischer from the hated Bush administration warmongers, blah blah blah.
Almost every assumption attached to Fischer's escape to Iceland is wrong. Fischer knowingly flouted United Nations sanctions against Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic's genocidal regime and accepted $3.65 million in prize money from a Milosevic crony. At a press conference, he boasted that he would never pay a penny to the US Treasury, and that in fact he hadn't paid any taxes since 1976. The warrant for his arrest dates to 1992 and spans the previous Bush and Clinton administrations.
More disturbing, the world press has portrayed Fischer as a misguided, eccentric genius, given to popping off occasional, regrettable condemnations of world Jewry. ''That's Bobby," is the refrain heard from his supporters in Iceland, Japan, and elsewhere when he denounces the ''bandit state of Israel," or yammers on about the rights of the ''red man," as he calls the American Indian.
(In a book prominently displayed in several Reykjavik bookstores, ''Bobby Fischer Goes to War," authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow reveal that both of Fischer's parents were Jewish and that he was not the product of a mixed marriage, as previously believed.)
Here is a taste of the real Bobby Fischer, as profiled by Rene Chun in The Atlantic in 2002: ''The Jews are a 'filthy, lying bastard people,' bent on world domination through such insidious schemes as the Holocaust ('a money-making invention'), the mass murder of Christian children ('their blood is used for black-magic ceremonies'), and junk food (William Rosenberg, the founder of Dunkin' Donuts, is singled out as a culprit)."
Here is an excerpt from a radio interview with Fischer broadcast in the Philippines, hailing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: ''This is all wonderful news," Fischer announced. ''I applaud the act. The US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a [expletive]. Now it's coming back to the US. [Expletive] the US. I want to see the US wiped out."
The irony, which I suspect is lost on Fischer's sympathizers both at home and abroad, is that any number of countries in the world would be happy to clap Fischer in irons for hate speech. The United States, which he so loudly reviles, is not one of them.
Iceland, it seems to me from an extremely short acquaintance, is an impressive country whose citizens have made many admirable decisions about how they choose to live. But lionizing Bobby Fischer is not one of them.
Fischer is not a hero, and he is not a persecuted human rights refugee. He is a greedy, manipulative, deranged hatemonger who will be a blight on Icelandic society for years to come. My bet is that Icelanders -- the ''Icelandic creeps," as Fischer called them in 1972 -- will tire quickly of their ''honored guest" and find a reason to honor their extradition treaty with the United States, returning Bobby to his real home.
The sad endgame of Bobby Fischer has begun."