Tuesday, September 19, 2006

In memory of my Jewish teacher Herb Feith

Ever since I returned from my 5-year stay in Australia to Malaysia in early 1987, I have not had the opportunity to visit Down Under again so far. Despite 19 years of separation and the many changes in life, one person there I have never forgotten and to whom I am forever grateful is the late Dr. Herb Feith (1930-2001), a Jewish Australian who taught me Southeast Asian politics.

Undoubtedly, it was Feith who first drew my interest in 1985 to the studies of the political history of Indonesia, especially the dynamic of the 1955 parliamentary elections when the Parti Komunis Indonesia (PKI) gained 16.4% of the popular votes and the 1965 coup, counter-coup and the subsequent massacre of at least 500,000 members and supporters of the PKI.

One of the introductory or foundational books on Indonesia's political history Feith recommended to us novices at that time was Ailsa Zainuddin's A Short History of Indonesia (Melbourne, Cassell, 1968), a secondhand copy of which I still keep till today.

Not very long after his passing in a road accident in Melbourne in 2001, I was informed by an Australian friend in the Kuala Lumpur diplomatic community about the tragedy. Thanks to the blogosphere, a long lost course-mate, Mark, who attended Feith's lectures with me, has just located me and emailed to me Feith's photograph and the URL of Monash University's The Herb Feith Foundation.

We have not forgotten the kacang putih and the red wine brought by Feith to the weekly tutorials for sharing. I also remember Feith as a dedicated environmentalist, great cyclist and committed vegetarian.

Thank you, sir. Rest in peace.

Herb Feith: an outstanding Indonesianist and humanitarian


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