It is being called “the biggest aquarium in the world.”
Perhaps the best known symbol of France to the world, the Eiffel Tower, will open this month with a new look that leaves some native French very disgruntled.
New walls of “extra clear”, bullet-proof glass, standing 10 ft. high and 2.5 inches thick, will now enclose Paris’s affectionately named ‘Lady of Iron’ on its north and south sides. Metallic walls of curved prongs of equivalent height will encase the other two sides, through which one will have to pass to access the Tower after submitting to security controls.
In addition, 420 blocks are being placed around the Tower to prevent jihadist vehicular attacks like those that occurred in Nice, Barcelona and Berlin. All of which has caused observers to complain the Tower will lose its aesthetic look, resembling now a “fortress.”
Under construction since last fall at a cost of about 40 million dollars, many French believe these latest security measures not only disfigure the venerable ‘Lady’, but represent, above all, the French political class’s impotence in face of the jihadist threat.
“It’s a loss of sovereignty when we are forced to build walls to guard against enemies that we do not know how to contain outside our frontiers,” commented one indignant reader in a French newspaper.
Another called the security measure “a degradation of the public space,” saying Gustave Eiffel, whose famous tower opened at the 1889 World’s Fair, “…would never have thought what the socialists have dared…”
Some have noted this “disfigurement” also does not include future unsightliness from graffiti and posters expected to soon cover the glass, making extra, expensive cleaning costs inevitable.
Paris’s socialist mayor, Anne Hildago, announced the decision to build the wall, a permanent structure, in February, 2017, six days after a jihadist attacked a military patrol at Paris’s Louvre. Paris’s police leadership then requested “more effective” security measures for the city’s heritage sites.
There was also a financial inducement to improve security. After the horrific jihadist 2015 attacks, the number of visitors to the tower had dropped below six million from its usual seven million for the first time in 15 years, a fall described as “unprecedented.” As a result, businesses suffered. Paris hotels, for example, had to lower their room rates.
Bernard Gaudilleres, president of Societe d’Exploitation de la Tour, the entity which operates the tower, said the new measures were meant to “reinforce security, modernize the welcoming area and improve the comfort of the visit.” He described the new glass structures as rock-solid for absolute security,” adding they are “infinitely nicer and more romantic” than the temporary metal barriers, erected for the 2016 Euro soccer championships, they are replacing.
(Who would ever have thought, least of all in Paris, that bullet-proof glass and anti-terrorist truck barriers could ever be romantic?)
Security measures for the Eiffel Tower and other Parisian tourist sites were first increased after the Charlies Hebdo jihadist attack in early 2015. They were increased again later that year in November after jihadists killed 130 people, 89 in the Bataclan nightclub massacre. Soldiers have also been patrolling the tower around the clock since 2016.
Prior to 2015, the tower’s square, containing its beautiful gardens, was still freely accessible. Now, they will be permanently inside the walls, a fact that displeases many French residents who will have to pass through controls every time they wish to walk there. As if in consolation, Gaudilleres states visiting the gardens is still free.
Tower security was reinforced further in May last year before the French presidential election not because of jihadists, but to an illegal intrusion by Greenpeace. Like the recent violation of the Statue of Liberty by an anti-Trump protester, Greenpeace also wanted to make a political statement, deploying a 30 meter by ten meter the anti-National Front banner from the tower’s second floor.
But despite all the new security measures, critics are still doubtful that jihadist attacks can be prevented at tower. In fact, some believe the measures may actually act as a “provocation,” or even a challenge.
Critics reasonably ask whether the new glass wall can withstand a rocket-propelled grenade attack. And what’s to stop jihadists from throwing explosive devices, such as grenades, over the wall into packed crowds? Kalshnikov-armed jihadists, after breaching the wall, could also cause another Bataclan where people, trapped by the new enclosure, will have no place to run.
Others believe the money would be better spent at the borders, stopping jihadists from entering France, especially those returning from Syria. Or in expelling or eliminating the ones already inside the country.
“One knows only how to submit rather than treat the causes,” states one critic of the tower’s new look, deploring where political weakness has led France and the resulting evolution of French society. Besides an admission of political failure, the wall also definitely proves the country is at war and is living in fear.
After the Eiffel Tower, critics also ask what monument is next to be encased in glass? The Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Louvre? Where will this loss of liberty and identity end, they ask? And even if you build walls around all the monuments in France, will that stop the Islamic terrorists? The Bataclan nightclub, after all, was no heritage monument.
Critics also reproach France’s socialist politicians who criticized President Trump for intending to build a border wall with Mexico, while they build walls inside of France. These disgraceful internal walls, they say, are exactly the result of not building such border walls. One states French socialists are “simply copying Trump on a smaller scale.”
Nevertheless, the French are developing a dark humor to match the times. Some examples: Mexico should pay for the Eiffel Tower’s new wall, or at least Saudi Arabia; instead of bullet-proof walls, one should just issue tourists with bullet-proof vests upon arrival in France; construct a wall around the mayor’s building; Paris’s medieval city wall, erected by King Philip II, parts of which still stand, should also be rebuilt as an anti-jihad measure.
Whether the Eiffel Tower’s new wall is an effective security measure remains debatable. What is certain, however, is its adverse psychological effect on French patriots, one of whom perhaps summed it up best:
“It’s against the dignity of man. It’s an absolute ugliness. One is leaving an ugly Paris to our children…”