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What About Immigrant Syrian Businessman On State Street?

July 22, 2020

Many residents of Madison have been watching and following the actions of our city leaders during the pandemic that left many people unemployed and businesses disrupted. That was soon followed by riots and looting that destroyed portions of the downtown.  There have been many concerns and questions about the way some rioting was allowed to continue and then what to do to assist those who had destruction to their State Street operations.

It appeared that some city coffers would make available funds so to help these businesses to reopen, staff up, open their doors, all in an effort to get cash registers humming and tax revenue flowing.  That is a good thing, right?

But then came a dilemma during consideration of $250,000 at this week’s city council meeting that made for this sentence in the Wisconsin State Journal.

While there are business owners of color on State Street, none of them are Black, Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc., acknowledged.

If nothing else made you stop and ponder where we are in this city that line should have been the one.

A couple sentences down came the following.

The recovery program would have allowed local small businesses and property owners to apply for reimbursement grants of up to $25,000 for window replacement or other repairs, or to pay for insurance deductibles.

Miar Maktabi, owner of the Dubai Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar on State Street and a Syrian immigrant, said his business sustained $39,000 in damage in one week. He pleaded with the city for help. 

“You guys are burying us,” Maktabi said. 

My first date with James, 20 years ago this May, was to an ethnic restaurant on State Street. (Turkish food where apricots coated the chicken dish.) We have always enjoyed the flavors from around the world, and wish to not only help a restaurant succeed, but in so doing also say welcome to Madison.

Over the years I have struck up conversations, and become friends with people in the restaurant world from Southeast Asia, Jamaica, etc., and in so doing helped where I could be useful.  In one case I helped to gain citizenship for someone through Senator Feingold’s office.  James, being able to speak several languages, has assisted others in ways that they were not able to do on their own.

We helped due to the fact the folks were nice people, just needing a bit of a helping hand, and we had the skills that made a difference.  I did not look at skin color or place of origin, but simply asked how could we help as friends.

I have seen the pictures and heard the stories of a restaurant owner escaping on a small over-loaded boat out of Vietnam, not knowing the English language, and certainly not accustomed to Wisconson winters. In a few decades, the family were business owners and employers, paying taxes, and becoming citizens. Their first generation here is even more successful.

So it pains me to read that a Syrian immigrant who is working hard and striving mightily to succeed has been denied help at this time because he does not have the right color of skin. Progressives are in over-drive to assuage their white guilt, but in so doing they are committing the same stark sins that they preach so mightily against.

Meanwhile, Maktabi and others of all colors are hoping to get back to their livelihoods on State Street.  The City Council needs to pay heed to their needs and get this iconic street back in operation.


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