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Michael Asher (born 1953) is an English desert explorer who has spent extensive time travelling and living in the Sahara and the Arabian desert, published both non-fiction and fictional works based on his explorations and encounters, and supported the production of several documentaries based on his published works.

Early & personal Life

Born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and educated at Stamford School, Michael Asher has a BA (Hons) from the University of Leeds,[1] where he studied English Language and Linguistics. A former soldier in the Parachute Regiment and SAS,[2] he has spent much of his adult life in Africa,[1] and speaks Arabic and Swahili. He is married to Arabist and photographer Mariantonietta Peru, with whom he has a son and a daughter.[1]

Career

Desert travels and life with desert nomads

In 1979, Asher went to the Sudan to work as a volunteer English teacher.[1] In his first vacation he bought a camel and travelled about 1500 miles across Kordofan and Darfur, joining up with a camel-herd being taken north to Egypt along the ancient caravan-route known as the Darb al-Arbaʿīn (Forty Days Road).[3]

He later transferred to al-Gineina, on the Chad-Sudan border, a small town without utilities where he lived in a mud cabin, kept his own camels, and made frequent solo journeys by camel in Darfur, covering hundreds of miles – experiences that formed the basis of his first book, In Search of the Forty Days Road.[3]

In 1982, Asher went to live among the Kababish nomads of the western Sudan, whom he stayed with for most of the next three years, a subject that become the subject of the book, A Desert Dies, focuses on the way of life of these people, and their decimation by a drought that began in 1984.[1] On a visit to Khartoum in 1985, Asher was asked by UNICEF Sudan to organise a camel caravan in the Red Sea Hills to take aid to Beja people cut off by drought and famine.[4][better source needed]

During this, Asher met Italian photographer and Arabist Mariantonietta Peru, with whom Asher subsequently embarked on a 4,500-mile West-to-East trek across the Sahara on foot and camel-back,[1] a trip that become the subject of the book, Two against the Sahara. The idea for the trek influenced by the work of British author Geoffrey Moorhouse who unsuccessfully attempted the crossing in 1972.[5][better source needed] Setting off from Chinguetti in Mauritania, in August 1986, with three camels, Asher and Peru passed through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and the Sudan, and finally arrived at the Nile at Abu Simbel in southern Egypt in May 1987, having made a journey of 271 days and 4,500 miles (7,200 km) by camel, the first recorded crossing of the Sahara from west to east by non-mechanical means.[6]

In 1988–9, Asher worked as Project Officer for the WHO/UNICEF Joint Nutrition Support Program among the Beja nomads of the Red Sea Hills in eastern Sudan.[7][better source needed]

In 1992, Asher also crossed the Western Desert, by camel, from Mersa Matruh on the Mediterranean coast, to Aswan in southern Egypt - a distance of 1,000 miles (1,600 km). He travelled with a single Bedouin companion for almost a month, and two of their five camels died on the way.[8][better source needed]

Documentary films

  • In Search of Lawrence (1997); A Channel 4 documentary retracing the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia, using the same methods of transport, equipment and resources Lawrence would have used in his day, and with a Bedouin descendant of Lawrence's companion, Auda bu Tayi of the Howeitat, in order to test the claims made in the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.[9]
  • Death, Deceit and the Nile (2000); Reconstructing the 1856 expedition by Burton and Speke to discover the source of the Nile, Asher and Peru travel by sailing dhow from Zanzibar to Bagamoyo in Tanzania, and with donkeys to Lake Tanganyika, ending their journey at Lake Victoria.
  • The Real Bravo Two Zero (2002); In 2000, Asher was commissioned by Channel 4 TV to go to Iraq with a film crew to investigate the story of the SAS patrol, Bravo Two Zero, retracing in the eight-man patrol's steps in the Iraqi desert. The resulting documentary and Asher's book by the same name served to disprove that Sergeant Vince Phillips, who died on the mission, was responsible for its failure.[10]
  • Survivors (2008); Directed and presented by Asher, the film looks at the lives of survivors of the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi by al-Qaeda, including Muslim families indiscriminately targeted. The film was shown on Nation TV, Kenya
  • Paradise is Burning (2008); Asher talks to survivors of the bombing of the Paradise Hotel, Kilifi, Kenya, by al-Qaeda. Shown on KBC, Kenya.
  • Stalking Hitler's Generals (2012); Shot in Libya just before the fall of Gadaffi, this documentary is partly based on Asher's book, Get Rommel and is about the British attempts to assassinate Erwin Rommel and the successful kidnapping of Heinrich Kreipe. Shown on NatGeo TV.

Published works

Asher has written a number of non-fiction works combining military history with North Africa, the Middle East, and the desert environment. These include Get Rommel, about Operation Flipper, the British attempt to assassinate Erwin Rommel in Libya in 1941, Sands of Death, about the Flatters expedition of 1881 and the Tuareg, The Regiment, a history of the SAS Regiment, and Khartoum, the Ultimate Imperial Adventure, the story of the fall of Khartoum, the Gordon Relief Expedition and the reconquest of the Sudan. Besides his biography of Wilfred Thesiger, he has also written Lawrence - The Uncrowned King of Arabia, a life of T. E. Lawrence.

Novels

  • The Eye of Ra (1999)
  • Firebird (2000)
  • Rare Earth (2002)
  • Sandstorm (2003)
  • The Last Commando (2009)
  • The Flaming Sword (2010)
  • Highroad to Hell (2012)
  • Code of Combat. (2014)
  • The Colour of Fire (2018)

Non-fiction

  • In Search of the Forty Days Road: Adventures with the Nomads of the Desert (1984)
  • A Desert Dies (1986)
  • Impossible Journey – Two Against the Sahara (1988)
  • Shoot to Kill: A Soldier's Journey Through Violence (1990) ISBN 0-304-36628-5
  • Thesiger – A Biography (1994)
  • Sahara (with Kazuyoshi Nomachi) (1996)
  • Phoenix Rising – The UAE Past, Present & Future (with Werner Forman) (1996)
  • The Last of the Bedu: In Search of the Myth (1996)
  • Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia (1998)
  • The Real Bravo Two Zero: The Truth Behind Bravo Two Zero (2002)
  • Get Rommel: The British Plot to Kill Hitler's Greatest General (2004)
  • Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure (2005); Penguin Books, London 2006, ISBN 978-014025855-4.
  • Sands of Death: An Epic Tale of Massacre and Survival in the Sahara (2007)
  • The Regiment: The Real Story of the SAS (2007), republished as The Regiment: The Definitive Story of the SAS (2018)

Awards

  • 1994 – Awarded the Ness Award of the Royal Geographical Society[11]
  • 1997 – Awarded the Mungo Park Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society[12]
  • 2016 – Awarded the Lawrence of Arabia Memorial Medal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs[13]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "Asher, Michael 1953-present". https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/asher-michael-1953. 
  2. Reynolds, Pauline (12 July 2008). "SAS hero shoots down elite myth". The Belfast Telegraph. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sunday-life/news/sas-hero-shoots-down-elite-myth-28404820.html. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Michael, Asher (1986). In Search of the Forty Days Road. Penguin. 
  4. '...Some Beja nomads were cut off, and as the terrain was so rugged, UNICEF asked me to organize a camel expedition tro take a medical/nutrition team there.' 'From 'Kenya Past & Present' No.34 2003 Author and Explorer Michael Asher by Esmond Bradley Martin & Lucy Vigne P26
  5. Moorhouse, Geoffrey, The Fearful Void
  6. Hanbury-Tenison, R. & Twigger R.(eds) The Modern Explorers (2013) ISBN 978-0-500-51684-3
  7. Bradley Martin, Esmond; Vigne, Lucy (2003). "Author and Explorer Michael Asher". pp. 29. ""I got a job with UNICEF as project officer for the joint nutrition support project in Port Sudan for a year (1988) I ran the whole thing and travelled round the Red Sea Hills."" 
  8. Asher, Michael. Last of the Bedu: In Search of the Myth (1996)
  9. "In Search of Lawrence (1997)". British Film Institute. https://www2.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b807dab1b. 
  10. "The truth that Vince wasn't Gulf War coward". The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. 7 May 2002. https://www.gazetteandherald.co.uk/news/7350983.the-truth-that-vince-wasnt-gulf-war-coward/. 
  11. "Medal winners 1970-2021". https://www.rgs.org/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?nodeguid=37027cb5-14d9-4607-b9c4-6ffb3cccca84&lang=en-GB. 
  12. "Mungo Park Medal" (in en). https://www.rsgs.org/mungo-park-medal. 
  13. "The Lawrence of Arabia Medal – The Royal Society for Asian Affairs" (in en-GB). https://rsaa.org.uk/awards/the-lawrence-of-arabia-medal/. 

External links

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