From Iceland — What Are Friends For?

What Are Friends For?

What Are Friends For?

Published March 11, 2005

The facts: Fischer is wanted by the US for breaking the trade embargo with the former Yugoslavia in 1992 (and more recently, for tax evasion), is currently in custody in Japan, and a few chess players in Iceland want to bring him here. What’s puzzling about Fischer’s case is that he remains a very unlikely candidate both as a potential immigrant to Iceland and for the help Minister of Foreign Affairs Davíð Oddsson has given him – especially in comparison with Iceland’s current immigrants.

Consider Said Hasan, a Jordanian man married to Ásthildur Albertsdóttir, who was expelled from the country last January. The reason for his expulsion? There was no one at the Immigration Office who spoke Jordanian Arabic to help him fill out his residence permit application and, as a result, he filled out the wrong form. Instead of catching the mistake or even informing Mr. Hasan of the error, his permit was denied and he was told to leave Iceland and not return for at least three years.

Bring Fischer Home, Keep Immigrants Out
Hasan’s story is not unique – immigration laws in Iceland have become increasingly stricter, and the thousands who want to stay in Iceland will have to follow these laws to the letter. Why should it be any different for Bobby Fischer?

Maybe because of how it benefits Oddsson.
While Sæmundur Pálsson flew to Japan to rescue Fischer (albeit with little result), he would never have done so without the documents from the foreign minister. It was Oddsson who had Fischer’s residence permit approved on December 15 and, when Fischer’s supporters said last February that his permit wasn’t ready, it was Oddsson again who spoke up in parliament, demanded to know why the Immigration Office was taking so long and added, “If people could forgive Muammar Qaddafi, who’s done some things in his past, then they could certainly forgive Bobby Fischer.”

A Pawn in Local Politics?
Why would Oddsson go to such lengths to help Bobby Fischer so long after the fact? He’s been in custody since July, after all, and received little attention to his pleas initially. As Fischer’s own website complained last October, “In 1972 Bobby put Iceland on the map. Now apparently Iceland won’t lift a finger to save Bobby’s life from the vicious US-Japan murder plot against him.”

Oddsson’s change of heart last December coincided with heated attacks against him in parliament regarding Iceland’s support of the war in Iraq. Suddenly crusading to defy the US and help Bobby Fischer get political asylum in Iceland could certainly have a lot to do with the attention shifting off of Oddsson regarding Iraq, as this small act of defiance does give him the appearance of one who doesn’t necessarily do whatever the US tells him.

And Who Benefits?
All of the efforts to bring Fischer to Iceland might be futile. Even his own lawyer, Masako Suzuki, said last January after a meeting with officials from the Japanese Foreign Ministry that none of Iceland’s legal actions would have any effect on their decision over whether or not to deport him to the US. The Mainichi Daily News reported in early March that the Japanese Foreign Ministry “refuses to let him [Fischer] leave Japan unless he is to return to the US”

Of course, whether Fischer comes to Iceland or is deported to the US, the political benefits of Oddsson’s defiance remain. Iceland’s immigrants would be advised not to hold their collective breath waiting for the same preferential treatment that was shown Fischer. One positive result that they could get from this debacle might be drawing attention to the double standard and calling for reforms in immigration law. In that sense, at least, someone other than Oddsson could benefit from the attention shown Fischer.

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