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VOL. 44 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 24, 2020

Burger-selling Iranians celebrate general’s death

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Mohammed Karimy, the original “Fat Mo,’’ with his wife, Shiva. He came to Nashville from Iran in 1986, opened his namesake restaurant and expanded the franchise to 10 locations.

-- Photograph Provided

Sitting on a needing-paint picnic bench behind his iconic South Nashville giant-hamburger-to-go joint, the native Iranian almost cheers when I bring up the topic of the general whose execution-by-drone has stirred the pot in his native land.

“I wish it was five years sooner,” says Hussein Mohammadi as we relax – between rainstorms – among beefed-up aromas wafting from his Fat Mo’s franchise on Eighth Avenue South in Berry Hill.

“We would make it (the restaurant) bigger, but it is grandfathered in” at this size and in relation to proximity of the churning, speeding traffic on the roadway, he says, with a shrug. He nods toward the food-truck-sized building that has stood sentry here since before Berry Hill was cool. That was before condos sprang up, back when a neighborhood meat-and-three embraced diners and smoking was allowed before 10 p.m. at the pool hall.

“My first job when I come here, three months after me and my family come to Nashville (in 1994), was at this Fat Mo’s,” he says, grateful for the job offer he received from Fat Mo himself – Mohammad Karimy, the former Iranian businessman who came to the States to start over in 1986.

“Mo, he is from my country, Iran,” explains Hussein, dark eyes smiling when talking about the burger impresario who has sold franchises for his specialty all over the Midstate.

That namesake of this chain isn’t fat – “maybe a little overweight” – according to his wife, Shiva Karimy, aka “Mama Mo.” She also says there are 10 Fat Mo’s franchises now, mostly headed by Kurdish refugees, both from Iran and Iraq. “They are good people. They work hard.”

Fat Mo and Mama Mo are not Kurdish, but rather Persians, the Iranian majority, Shiva adds. “But we get along with everybody.”

The Fat Mo’s on Eighth Avenue South in Berry Hill was the second one, even though it is best known, an urban landmark in Music City.

“We opened in Antioch in 1990. Opened in Melrose (Eighth Avenue) in 1994,” says Mama Mo, noting that she and her husband now just own and operate the one in Smyrna. “It’s on Sam Ridley (Parkway), in front of the bowling alley.”

She, too, is jubilant because of the death of the Persian general of torture and terror, and I’ll let you hear from her again in a bit.

But back on the bench on Eighth Avenue South, a broad smile breaks Hussein’s face as we talk about the MQ-9 Reaper Drone strike that – while it occurred in Baghdad, Iraq – tore at the heart of the Ayatollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“I am happy they have got that guy,” says Hussein, reflecting again on his thoughts when he first heard that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, had been killed early Jan. 3, after missiles shot by the Reaper slammed into his convoy near the airport in Baghdad.

“That was the happiest news,” says Hussein, admitting “at first I didn’t believe it.”

After hearing early reports that the general had been killed in a hit ordered by President Trump, Hussein jumped into research to verify this fabulous news of death was true. “I first couldn’t find it on CNN or Voice of America,” he recalls.

He admits to celebration “when I found it was 100% true” after it was reported on a Kurdish channel on Facebook.

Burger peddler Hussein “had been a schoolteacher for a few years” in his hometown of Piranshar after attending university in that town in Kurdistan (a country that exists in the hearts and minds of its natives but which is inside the borders of Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.)

That Kurdish minority of more than 35 million (his number) has been the target of terror from the likes of Soleimani and his evil Persian pals and assorted military and religious thugs throughout history.

“It was a medium city when I left,” he says of Piranshar, adding that Kurds from nearby Iraq and from out in the unsettled section of Iran have swelled the population until “It’s a big city now.”

And, it should be noted that – even though he keeps in touch with his brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews back in Iran – “I can never go back there.”

“They would hang me, kill me at the border, because I have opposed the government” of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

He relishes the fact that, really, his home, the home of his wife and his four children, ages 20-26, and two grandchildren is here. And he celebrates it each day when he arrives at his burger biz near the bustling car wash in Berry Hill.

“We were in Turkey where we stood for two years in a refugee camp” awaiting their number to come up in the United Nations lottery of where to send this huddled mass of freedom-seekers. “At the time we just had two children.

“We had great luck,” he continues. “The United Nations sent people to all countries, but they sent us here to Nashville,” where Hussein and his family had been sponsored by a church.

“I came to Nashville, studying the schools,” says this almost-55-year-old gentleman. “I search what area is good to study. I chose Brentwood.

“All my children are educated, all graduated from Brentwood High School.”

Probably ought to add here that Hussein has asked me not to use the first names of his wife and children. “I don’t mind speaking for myself against the government of Iran, but I don’t want to involve anyone else,” he says, simply, as he watches me strike those names from my battered reporter’s notebook.

“General Soleimani was a big-time terrorist,” notes Hussein of the major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commander of the Quds Force of “soldiers,” who performed their bloody and often clandestine terrorist acts at the beckoning of the “Supreme Leader,” aka the Grand Ayatollah: Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the Persian Godfather, glowering whack-master in a turban.

This current Supreme Leader, of course, took over as the religious and political and military mastermind of the country upon the 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who sprung the hostage crisis that pretty well sank Jimmy Carter and launched Ronald Reagan – of “Tear down this wall” and “Gipper” fame – into the presidency in the 1980 election. That was back when people generally liked their presidents, even a right-wing former “Death Valley Days” host and 20 Mule Team Borax spokesman.

No need to go into that hostage crisis here, but to be writing again about that wild and crazy Iranian Ayatollah 40 years after that humiliating chapter is almost surreal.

“I am here because the Iranian government was fighting against the Kurdish people,” says Hussein, who proudly notes he is an American citizen who appreciates the dream achieved.

“The Kurdish people are trying to have their own government. The Democratic Party of Kurdistan is our government” of the country whose borders can be found on a map as imaginary lines in the sand of repressive nations of the Middle East.

“Kurdish people want freedom,” he says of the reason for the fighting and for the bullying by the official governments of those countries.

“When I got here, my sponsor, his name was Harry, but I can’t remember his last name,” he says, apologizing and adding it was long ago that the church and Harry helped this refugee family.

“He had to help me for three months. I learned a little English and I learned to drive myself. And then I went to work here for Mo.”

The evil dead general marches back into the conversation. “The general, Soleimani, was a big terrorist. He was a more important leader than al-Baghdadi.”’

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – or “Big Daddy,” as I refer to the dead murderer – was an ISIS leader who controlled chunks of Syria and Iraq with the help of tens of thousands of jihadists. He was killed in an Oct. 26 attack by U.S. Special Ops in the northern part of Syria. The murderer of thousands “died like a dog,” whimpering in a dead-end tunnel, according to President Trump.

Hussein says it was good to get rid of Big Daddy, but – because the General Soleimani was killing folks for Iran, a much larger and more-influential country in the spread of terrorism, international assassinations and casual beheadings – he was more dangerous. “Soleimani is involved in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Saudi Arabia,” Hussein says.

Those identified as the leaders of Kurdistan were killed by the general, “and many children and people has been killed by his plan,” he says.

“In October 2019, during the demonstrations by the Kurds, 1,500 people were killed in one week. And he killed U.S. citizens in Kirkuk, Iraq.

“The Ayatollah and Soleimani would have used nuclear and chemical weapons on their own people,” he adds. “They do not act like Islam people. They act against the ideas of Islam.

“Now he is gone. I am happy I have not seen that guy (in the news recently),” he shrugs. As we talk, he occasionally diverts his eyes to his small HQ building as commuters begin a soft parade to the takeout window on their way to Harding Place, Crieve Hall or Brentwood.

He says the Kurdish people retain some anger against Trump for his withdrawal of American troops along the Syria-Turkey border a few months ago, the action that inspired worldwide protests. But he says much has been forgiven because the president continued “to defend the land of oil,” keeping that rich section of Syria out of the hands of the Russians, Turks and ISIS, aka “the bad guys.”

Lust for oil, of course, is a common denominator among our commanders-in-chief. Oil has flowed through our Middle Eastern policy, in war and in peace, for decades.

Details still are being sorted out about Iran’s retaliatory strike on U.S. posts after the general met the MQ-9 Reaper. At first, we were told no one, American soldier or otherwise, was injured. Now there are cases of traumatic brain injury reported. Gimme some truth.

Hussein, none of us, know the facts of that Iranian attack now. What is clear, what angers this hamburger executive (and all of us, I would hope), is that the Ayatollah’s guys – apparently anticipating incoming, retaliatory missiles from Uncle Sam – instead shot down a Ukrainian jetliner “after three minutes flying. When that plane was shot down, 176 people were killed. Most from Iran. They were many students from college. Many lose their loved ones’ lives.”

The fact that it took Iran three days to admit it was their fault, an accident involving perhaps ill-prepared and missile-trigger-happy troops, angers him more.

But he says the wild-in-the-streets after effect should show the world what real Iranian people – not their cutthroat leaders – are like.

“After that plane went down and he (the Ayatollah) lied to the world, the people went to the streets and are protesting.

“I hope the U.S. will be watching the protesters and don’t let Iran kill them because they are protesting.”

Hussein Mohammadi’s first job after he arrived in Nashville with his family in 1994 was at Fat Mo’s hamburger joint on Eighth Avenue South. He now is the owner of that location.

-- Photograph Provided

Shiva, Mama Mo, agrees with Hussein’s assessment of the danger of the current regime of her homeland.

“I don’t want to give you my maiden name because I have family in Iran,” she says, telling me to stick with Mo’s last name of Karimy.

“We are supporters of the son of the Shah of Iran, who lives in New Jersey,” says this woman who grew up in Iranian Azerbaijan, the northern part of Iran.

Fat Mo himself is, like his wife, a Persian, but he’s from Hamadan, a historic city in North-Central Iran.

The two Persians met while Shiva was studying in Istanbul, where her future husband was a businessman, selling Turkish leather and Persian rugs.

“They (the Ayatollah’s government) are worse than the KGB,” she says, explaining her reason for caution. “They find out you are talking against them, and they can go and bother your family in Iran.

“That’s why people are so scared to talk openly to reporters,” she adds.

Like some religious leaders throughout history, the Ayatollah apparently enjoys ordering up death among his enemies and perhaps his minions, at least according to the mostly gentle and kind Iranians I spend time with.

And Soleimani was the blood-thirsty leader of the hit squad.

“I’m glad he’s dead,” Mama Mo says again. “Soleimani and his crew are very, very dangerous people. They assassinated a lot of people in Europe.”

She knows a bit about Europe, by the way, since it became home to her after the revolution that brought the religious radicals to power and sent cardigan-wearing Jimmy Carter, our Oval Office Mr. Rogers, back to his peanut farm in Plains, Georgia.

That revolution ended Jan. 16, 1979, when Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi – aka “The Shah of Iran” – fled the military mutiny and revolution in the country he had ruled since 1941, opening the door for the now-dead Ayatollah Khomeini to take over.

The Shah took a road trip looking for a place to die. He wandered like Willie Nelson as he sought a new home. He went to Egypt, Morocco, The Bahamas and Mexico before coming (amid controversy) to the U.S. for lymphatic cancer treatment. He then went to Panama and finally settled in to die in Egypt after that land’s moderate (and lamented) President Anwar Sadat granted him asylum.

The Shah died in 1980 in that land of the pyramids. Sadat’s death came the next year, his body riddled by bullets from a hail of gunfire by fundamentalist rogue soldiers during a military parade. The tombs of both men are “must-see” attractions for tourists in Cairo, according to the internet.

Shiva began her college studies in Iran, but “after the revolution, they closed all the universities because they wanted to have a cultural Islamic revolution,” she says. “Ayatollah Khomeini said the danger of universities are worse than atomic bomb. They shut it all down. That’s when I came out of Iran to get an education.”

Shiva first went to Istanbul to study at American University. After she met and married Mr. Mo “we came to Austria, Vienna, and I started going to university there in the Technical University of Vienna.

“Then I came to America, and I studied programming at Nashville Tech. And even I keep my education going on: When I have time, I take classes at Motlow (Motlow State Community College in Smyrna.)

“I love education,” says Mama Mo. “I have 120 hours of college credit, 4.0 student. I speak six languages: Two different Turkish languages (one of which was the native tongue in her part of Iran), German, Persian, English.

“I speak very fluently good Kurdish.”

She’s also been picking up Japanese from her many customers from that land who take their Nissan lunch breaks at her restaurant, which is not far from that massive automobile-manufacturing complex.

“Japanese are very, very smart people. Japanese people, they are my regular customers. They are very picky about where they eat.”

I wrote about Fat Mo, 72, for the old Nashville Banner newspaper at least a quarter-century ago. He, fortunately, remembers and likes me, but is going home ill and asks me to speak with Mama Mo instead.

“We were always together,” she says of the happy couple of Persians. “He is a hard-working restaurant owner. Mr. Mo worked three jobs before he started Fat Mo’s. That’s how he became successful.”

She’s no slacker, working beside Fat Mo in building a business that has sprung franchises.

“They call me ‘Queen of Hamburgers,’” she says. “When I get older, I work more. I am 56 now, and when I’m getting older, I have to work harder.”

And she likes working with her husband, who began satisfying hamburger appetites three decades ago, when they both were relatively young people seeking a new start in America.

“Most of my life, I live in United States of America, and I am very thankful for our freedom in this country,” says Mama Mo.

“But I really want the Iranian people to get a secular regime, separation of church and state, and the freedom they deserve: Like before.

“I am very sorry that Iranian government have some people that are not experts in military. That’s what causes shooting down of airplane. I wish Iran had people that’s really studying and knows the difference between an airplane and a rocket.

“Iranian people say: ‘You lied about this. What about the others? How many of these catastrophes you lied to us about? Why you were not honest?

“They aren’t even apologizing.”

The troubles and tension between her adopted country, the U.S.A., and the one she left as a young student, aren’t likely to end soon.

She obviously agrees with Hussein, Berry Hill’s Fat Mo’s proprietor who tells me: “The regime of Iran is the virus for all the world. Until this regime is out of power, they will kill people.

“Collapsing the regime of Iran is our only hope.”

We all wanna change the world, get rid of the minds that hate, and that revolution is these Iranians’ pie in the sky … well, hamburgers rather than pie, in their cases … while they live the American dream for which they are forever grateful.

Down at Fat Mo’s by the bowling alley in Smyrna, 20 Japanese customers have come in the front door. “I need to go take their orders,” says Shiva. “I’m the only one who speaks Japanese.”

She stops before returning to work and proclaims, with great joy: “We make the best hamburgers in the area.”

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