A British architect came under fire for his “modest proposal,” in which he suggested replacing the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral spire with a “graceful minaret” as a memorial to the “approximately 100 Algerians who were killed by the French police while protesting the Algerian War in 1961.”
A minaret, from the Arabic word for “beacon,” is a tower commonly found on mosques and associated with Islamic religious architecture.
Tom Wilkinson, who serves as history editor for Architectural Review, recently advocated for the use of a minaret in the rebuilding of iconic Notre-Dame, which was heavily damaged after catching on fire in mid-April.
Citing French President Emmanuel Macron’s post-blaze comments pledging to “rebuild Notre-Dame even more beautifully,” Wilkinson, writing an op-ed for Domus, descended into a philosophical reverie about the nature of beauty standards.
“But then the question of rebuilding ‘even more beautifully’ raises as many questions as it answers. By whose standards of beauty?” Wilkinson wrote.
And after considering different perspectives from which to approach the beautification of Notre-Dame – “fantastic medievalising,” “structural virtuosity,” Jacobinian reason – Wilkinson queried whether there might be “something in the idea that truth is beautiful.”
And not just any truth – “a more political kind of truth, and hence a more political beauty.”
“To rebuild ‘even more beautifully’ in this regard could mean, for instance, transforming Notre-Dame into a memorial to the generations of peasants who were exploited to fund it, and the heretics murdered by its client,” he wrote. “Or, if the barbarism of which this building is a document has grown too cold to trouble us, why not a monument to a more up-to-date form of political truth?”
“How about, in this instance, a monument to le gilet jaune inconnu, complete with a dayglow spire?” Wilkinson probed, alluding to the French yellow vest movement.
Eventually, he referenced a 1961 massacre of Algerians following the government’s enactment of a curfew on “French Muslims from Algeria” in Paris and surrounding suburbs.
“Or if that seems a little frivolous, what about the approximately 100 Algerians who were killed by the French police while protesting the Algerian War in 1961, many of them thrown into the Seine at the foot of Notre-Dame?” Wilkinson wrote. “These victims of the state could be memorialized by replacing Viollet-le-Duc’s flèche with – why not? – a graceful minaret.”
Commenters blasted the architectural commentator in replies to a tweet linking out to his article for Domus.
Just to clarify, for all those who’ve been triggered by this article – I think St Peter’s should be turned into a mosque, too
— Tom Wilkinson (@TMOWilkinson) April 25, 2019
In a followup tweet, Wilkinson shot back at his critics.
“Just to clarify, for all those who’ve been triggered by this article – I think St Peter’s should be turned into a mosque, too,” he wrote.
He also called out the “hysterical Nazi snowflakes” who competed “to demonstrate the mental degeneracy of the alt-right.”
Some commentators suggested Wilkinson may have been trolling, noting that his verbiage echoed the title of one of the works by Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift.
Straight-faced with tongue-in-cheek. Of course this minaret argument will also be forwarded in earnest, sooner than later. pic.twitter.com/N8HEIrFhYC
— Ben Llaneta (@bllaneta) April 25, 2019
The fire at Notre-Dame ignited a fierce cultural battle, with some on the left accusing right-leaning figures of dog whistling to white supremacy by holding the cathedral up as a monument to Western civilization and Judeo-Christian values.