When I last visited Paris, exactly two years ago, Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan, the Brussels and Istanbul airport attacks, and this year’s other terrorist attacks had of course not yet occurred. While France (and Europe more generally) have regrettably become no strangers to such attacks (there have been scores of attacks in France alone during the post-War period, and more than 20 since 2003), something has clearly changed since 2014. Apart from the evolving and heightened security protocol in many public places, there is palpable, underlying sense of fear. You can tell by the looks on people’s faces in the Paris metro, for example, and by how numb Parisians have become to the barrage of intrusions by security personnel, inspecting their bags in so many public places.
The sad truth is, the distinction one could make — until only very recently — between Paris and any number of other cities around the world vis-à-vis security protocols, has slowly disappeared. Yes, there has for some time been a protocol that went above and beyond what most countries in the West experience as a routine, but today, security forces armed with automatic weapons patrol all the major tourist destinations in Paris, from the Champs-Elysees to the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre. At the Eiffel Tower, tall metal fences now surround its perimeter, and all visitors must first pass through a security cordon before they may enter the grounds. At the Louvre, bags are now checked prior to being able to enter the line for the “formal” security check, before tickets may even be purchased. And, bags are checked before entering train stations and shopping centers. In short, Paris has become a city under siege, and it is hard to imagine that, once this type of security protocol has been established, it will be relaxed any time soon.