It was inevitable. A millionaire Russian politician who claims to have been abducted by aliens, and also happens to be president of the World Chess Federation, has offered $10 million to buy the site of the proposed Cordoba House Muslim cultural center in downtown Manhattan. Like we said, inevitable.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the Kalmykia region of Russia and also president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), has written letters to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Hisham Elzanaty, an investor in the Park51 site, offering to buy the property for $10 million and erect an International Chess Center there. “[we] hope that this proposal will prove the optimal solution and resolve the controversy that has caused such disquiet across the world,” Ilyumzhinov wrote. Ilyumzhinov figures that chess is uniquely suited to solving this particular conflict:
“I believe that religious conflicts are extremely dangerous in complex times such as ours,” Ilyumzhinov wrote in his letter to Bloomberg. “Chess is a unique and wise game. It came to the West from the East, unites every country, and it has affinities with every religion equally. My dream as president of FIDE is that chess becomes the only ‘battlefield’ between East and West. Perhaps this is not yet possible, but we will do all we can to ease tensions.”
Your move, Bloomberg.
Now, The New York Times’ chess blog suggests that Ilyumzhinov’s offer “may just be a publicity stunt to insert himself into the international debate and thereby raise his profile. He is involved in a bitter campaign for re-election to FIDE against Anatoly Karpov, the former world champion.” And it turns out that Ilyumzhinov claimed in an interview on primetime TV that he had been taken on an alien spaceship visiting Earth.
So perhaps these chess lovers really think they’ve found an elegant solution to the debate. Or maybe the machinations of the international chess world are entering the fraught fight over a piece of real estate near the site of a national tragedy. Or Ilyumzhinov’s aliens are back.
Read Ilyumzhinov’s letters here.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com