‘Afghanistan’s Bruce Lee’ recalls hardship after Taliban retook power
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Abbas Alizada, known online as “Afghanistan’s Bruce Lee” for his uncanny resemblance to the late legendary martial artist, recently recalled his harrowing experience after the Taliban retook control of his country in 2021.
Speaking to The Star, Alizada, 29, shared the hardships she had to endure after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August 2021 and the subsequent departure of the United States government after a 20-year occupation.
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As a martial artist, online star and a member of the Hazara ethnic group persecuted by the Taliban, Alizada said the Taliban’s takeover of the country forced him into hiding for more than a year.
While he was not necessarily on any official wanted list, Alizada recalled having to grow a beard to get past Taliban border police and avoid recognition as he is famous in the country.
“We had freedom, but the Taliban brought restrictions and persecution,” he told The Star.
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Alizada said she had to cover her face whenever she had to work out at a well-equipped gym in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.
“I had a tough time last year,” he said. “The Taliban took away our freedom. I used to go to my gym with fear and stress.”
The Taliban also censored art when they controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
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During that period, the Islamic fundamentalist group enforced a strict ban on music, movies and TV, as its members considered these activities to be “un-Islamic”. Works of art, including paintings and sculptures from the famous National Museum in Kabul, were looted and then destroyed.
Photographs portraying living people were also considered sacrilegious at the time, and books featuring pictures of women with their faces uncovered also suffered the same fate as other works of art.
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After the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021, many artists were forced to flee Afghanistan for fear of persecution.
Alizada first got his big break in December 2014 after his friends uploaded pictures of him on Facebook. He then started appearing in several films and commercials in South and Central Asia a year after it went viral.
His fame grew quickly and in November 2020, he finally got his golden ticket after being offered a role in a Hollywood movie.
However, it all came crashing down after the Taliban retook his country and Alizada had to put his dreams on hold to follow in Lee’s Hollywood footsteps. He recalled writing a letter of intent to a Hollywood director in 2020 as he was already close to getting a US work visa, which is said to be difficult for Afghan nationals to obtain.
The US embassy was closed shortly after US troops withdrew from the country, and his subsequent letters to a US diplomatic mission in Islamabad, Pakistan, went unanswered.
Worried about his family’s safety, especially since they are part of the Hazara ethnic group, Alizada said he contacted Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada last year asking for help, but never heard back.
Alizada ended up among 32 athletes evacuated by a British non-governmental organization in December 2022 and was sponsored to have British permanent residency.
“When I walk down the street in London, everyone wants to take pictures with me,” said Alizada, who now lives in Manchester. “People say, ‘You look a lot like Bruce Lee.’ I say, ‘I’m the Bruce Lee of Afghanistan.’
No longer constrained by the influence of the Taliban, Alizada announced that he will finally join the cast of a Hollywood martial arts film that is slated for release in mid-2023.