Revisiting France’s Burqa Ban Through a Psychoanalytic Lens

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In 2011, France passed the infamous bill that prohibited face-covering in public places. It implied a ban on the niqab for Muslim women as well. The burqa ban was not just a means of eliminating the threat to public safety within the country, its implications are rooted in creating a fantasy for Muslim women as submissive and desirable. Psychoanalysis of the bill reveals its entanglements with France’s sadistic pleasures of dominating migrant Muslim women. The dichotomy between the perceptions of veil as both threatening and also as a symbol of submissiveness reveals a greater insight on the European male gaze towards migrant women. The reflections on the conditions of migrant Muslim women in France highlight a broader global pattern of dehumanizing treatment of migrants from Muslim majority countries. 

France’s burqa ban should be seen as an act of regulating the most intimate spheres of a Muslim woman’s life. The regulations on niqab are a degrading act, as it invades the most significant aspect of a migrant Muslim woman’s identity. Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Sexuality explains how certain symbolic actions (not necessarily sexual) are guided by one’s pleasure principle. The act of banning the niqab is a symbolic representation of desires targeted towards the fulfillment of France’s pleasures. This leads to the reproduction of erotic pleasures by degrading Muslim women’s bodies. The acts of degradation are motivated with the intention of debasing Muslim women; through the acts of debasing there is an attempt to strip them of their humanity. 

The dehumanization of Muslim migrant women is required for absolute control and submission. In turn, this leads to the production of hierarchies where certain individuals have more control over the lives of others. Through the acts of forced submission, the state regains a sense of authority, which creates a euphoria that maximizes the pleasures of the dominant group. These pleasures are sadistic in nature as they are motivated by the dehumanization of the other. The act of banning the niqab can be identified as a sadistic act targeted towards regaining absolute control over the bodies of Muslim migrant women. There is desirability in submissive veiled Muslim women who are being ‘controlled’ by a white man. The act of banning the veil is seen as the process of conquering the bodies of Muslim women and degrading them (bodies) for pleasure. 

The veil symbolizes purity and piety, that need to be conquered. The purity of the veil is obliterated through pleasures that attempt to own the bodies of these women. The act of banning the burqa is an attempt to control purity. This creates a sexual utopia around the identity of migrant women who are controlled and degraded for the State’s pleasures. For Muslim women, the forced unveiling of the niqab is similar to the act of stripping. The state assumes the role of a sexual sadist that gains pleasures through the humiliation and control of migrant bodies. 

One of the most important implications of France’s burqa ban is the creation of sadistic fantasies towards Muslim migrant women. These fantasies are deeply rooted in dehumanizing and controlling them through acts of degradation. Invading the intimate spheres of migrant identities highlights France’s beastly commitment to gaining pleasures through a violation of these women’s agencies.

The act of banning the niqab in public spaces should not be seen as an isolated phenomenon, but rather as part of a much larger discourse around the global patterns of Islamophobia. Muslim migrant women are seen as among the most vulnerable in society, implying that they need to be saved by the majority population. The saving is intimately tied with stripping of their identities and agencies over their bodies. 

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. 1910. Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory. Translated by A. A. Brill. New York: The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

Langman, Lauren. 2004. “Grotesque Degradation: Globalization, Carnivalization, and Cyberporn.” In Net.seXXX: Readings on Sex, Pornography, and the Internet, edited by Dennis D. Waskul, 180-203. New York: Peter Lang.