Opinion

View Point: Lolita or pedophilia?
The real law-breaking pornography

Remember the novel Lolita? It's a 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov about Humbert Humbert, a literary scholar, and his obsession with a 12 year-old "nymphet" (a sexually desirable young girl between age 9 and 14). Critics say that the book is famous for its innovative style and it has long enjoyed classic status.

At the same time, however, the book is also infamous for it's controversial subject matter. Nabokov made the name "Lolita" synonymous with sexually-precocious young girls.

But does that also mean that Lolita is a book about pedophilia? Yes, it does, but it is hardly an endorsement of the practice. In fact, the book dramatizes the tragic consequences of Humbert's obsession with the young girl. He's not proud of his relationship with Lolita and in fact, is filled with remorse. Once, listening to the sounds of children playing, he is guilt-stricken that he's robbed Lolita of her childhood.

I wonder if Pujiono Cahyo Widianto (better known as Syech Puji) was inspired by Nabokov's Lolita? A 43-year-old wealthy kiayi (cleric) from Semarang, he recently married Lutfiana Ulfa, a 12-year-old girl who had just completed elementary school.

I saw the photo of their "wedding" in the newspaper, with Ulfa on one side and Puji's first wife on the other. Just looking at the photo, it would be natural to think that Ulfa is his daughter -- until you read the caption -- that is. I thought of my eldest daughter Mimi, who also happens to be 12 ... and that resulted in a decidedly unpleasant sensation in my stomach. I wonder if Puji has any children of his own? If so, let's hope they aren't being turned into little Lolitas too.

Puji himself argued that he was following the Prophet Muhammad who married Aisyah when she was only seven years old.

Whether Puji has read Lolita or not, for most sane human beings what he has done falls fairly and squarely under the category of pedophilia, and that made me curious to know more about this disorder. As a technical medical diagnosis, it's when an adult expresses a desire for prepubescent children, but in common usage the term simply means "child sexual abuse".

The causes of pedophilia aren't known yet, but some researchers say there are links to psychological characteristics such as low self-esteem and poor social skills. It's also said to be related to men with lower IQs, school failure, shorter physical height and childhood head injuries.

But when the Commissioners for the Protection of Children (Komnas Perlindungan Anak) went to Semarang to meet with Syech Puji, they didn't need to measure him for height or chat up his parents to see if he'd bombed out in school or suffered a blow on the head as a child.

No, all they needed was a quick glance at our 1974 Marriage Law (which says that a woman must be at least 16 to marry), and our national laws on child protection, health, labor and welfare. They could also have flipped through the Criminal Code (KUHP), because it says that any sexual involvement with a minor -- anyone under 18 -- is a crime. The penalty? Five years jail max, or a fine of Rp. 100 million (less than US$10,000).

Unsurprisingly, public reaction to Syech Puji's Lolita moment has been split. Women's organizations and human rights groups offered a barrage of sharp criticism, condemning the "marriage" as little more than religiously sanctioned pedophilia. Muslim groups, by contrast, have been largely silent. If they have said anything, it has been simply to dismiss the controversy as unproblematic. Yes, they jump up and down to force the passing of the anti-pornography Law, but seem to think that polygamous pedophilia is perfectly OK. How does that work?

The truth is that it doesn't work at all, and that Syech Puji's monstrous marriage reveals much about what is wrong with Indonesian attitudes towards Islam.

It reminds us, for example, of our deep-seated national tendency to mess up priorities. Like pedophilia, there are many things in Indonesia that are "pornographic", including, for example, state and "religiously" sanctioned violence, corruption (of the state bureaucracy, the judiciary, political parties, even anti-corruption bodies), political paralysis and continuing ethnic violence.

These are the real pornographies, not the moral panic reaction to a bit of bum wiggling, or an exposed body part (which just shows that the hardline Muslim proponents of the pornography law either have dirty minds or are politically opportunistic -- or both). I would say that obsessing about moral panic rather than condemning a real sex crime such as the one Puji has committed is definitely not getting your priorities right.

Puji's marriage is also symbolic of the current tendency to distort the real message of Islam, something typical of the Muslim hardline groups that have supported him in his Nabokovian project. Does anyone seriously think God approves of middle-aged men marrying pre-pubescent children? It is really all that surprising that conservative Islam gets so much bad press?

Puji's marriage also represents the continuing tension, often outright conflict, between state and sharia law. Why has there been any hesitation in charging Puji with a criminal offense?

Finally, Puji's marriage put the issue of child abuse fairly and squarely on the national agenda. Marriage to a minor is straight out child abuse, no ifs, buts or maybes. Not only has Puji married a minor, but he's even bragging about marrying younger children.

Like Humbert Humbert, Puji just can't help himself. Only catch is, he's not a character in a literary classic, a fact that will soon have dire consequences for Ulfa, who, unlike Lolita, is a flesh and blood child even if, like Lolita, she is about to be deprived of her childhood.

The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation. She can be contacted on jsuryakusuma@gmail.com

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