The poem Someone I'm Afraid Of (text available here) by Zaki Ovais concludes with the following lines:

I’m a human in the universe,
denied the most basic rights.

I’m someone I’m afraid of.

I'm particularly interested in what the last line means. Why does the fact that the author's been denied their rights imply that they're someone that they're afraid of?

1 Answer 1


This is purely my reading, I don't know if it is what was on the writer's mind at all.

James Baldwin published a book of two essays in 1963 which addressed issues of race and segregation in the United States. The second of the essays "Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in my Mind"

addresses the detriment of Christianity on the Black community and Baldwin’s journey from being a teen pastor to completely pulling away from the church because it felt like a repression of his full experience of humanity.[11] He then recounts his dinner with Elijah Muhammad where Muhammad educated Baldwin on the Nation of Islam in the hope of getting him to join the movement.

Taking a section from his recounting of the dinner, (with my added emphasis) we read:

'Let us say that the Muslims were to achieve the possession of the six or seven states that they claim are owed to Negroes by the United States as 'back payment' for slave labour. Clearly, the United States would never surrender this territory, on any terms whatsoever, unless it found it impossible, for whatever reason, to hold it - unless, that is, the United States were to be reduced as a world power, exactly the way, and at the same degree of speed , that England has been forced to relinquish her Empire. (It is simply not true - and the state of her ex-colonies proves this - that England 'always meant to go'. If the States were Southern states - and the Muslims seem to favour this - then the borders of a hostile Latin America would be raised, in effect, to, say, Maryland. Of the American borders on the sea, one would face towards a powerless Europe and the other towards an untrustworthy and non-white east, and on the north, after Canada, there would only be Alaska, which is a Russian border. The effect of this would be that the white people of the United States and Canada would find themselves marooned on a hostile continent, with the rest of the white world probably unwilling and certainly unable to come to their aid. All this is not, to my mind, the most imminent of possibilities, but if I were a muslin, this is the possibility that I would find myself holding in the centre of my mind, and driving towards And if I were a Muslim, I would not hesitate to utilize - or, indeed, to exacerbate - the social and spiritual discontent that reigns here, for, at the very worst, I would merely have contributed to the destruction of a house I hates, and it would not matter if I perished, too. One has been persisting here so long!

And what were they thinking around the table? 'I've come,' said Elijah, 'to give you something which can never be taken away from you.' How solemn the table became then, and how great a light rose in the dark faces! This is the message that has spread through streets and tenements and prisons, through the narcotics wards, past the filth and sadism of mental hospitals to a people from whom everything has been taken away, including, most crucially, their sense of their own worth. People cannot live without this sense; they will do anything whatever to regain it. This is why the most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose. You do not need ten such men - one will do.

If not specifically referencing this view of African American Muslims in the United States, I think Zaki Ovais may be arriving at the same conclusion about Rohingya in Myanmar.

Like Elijah, they are Muslim, and they are stateless, as in a sense Black Americans were under Segregation and Jim Crow.

From Britannica.com:

Almost all Rohingya in Myanmar are stateless, unable to obtain “citizenship by birth” in Myanmar because the 1982 Citizenship Law did not include the Rohingya on the list of 135 recognized national ethnic groups. The law had historically been arbitrarily applied in relation to those, such as the Rohingya, who did not fall strictly within the list of recognized ethnic nationalities. Since 2012, other developments, including a series of proposed legislative measures (some of which were passed by Myanmar’s parliament), resulted in further restrictions on the limited rights of the Rohingya.

So, Ovais may be saying that if people can be so marginalised that they have nothing to lose, that the only thing they have left to fear is their own inaction. Essentially that when there is nothing else to take from a person, or a population, there is no knowing what that person or population may do to redress the balance because there is nothing to control them through and there is no telling what they might do, utter powerlessness has the potential to free the powerless to action frightening even to the actor.

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