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    Tuesday, October 28, 2008


    Diyarbakir, Turkey — Saturday, Oct. 25

    When you travel across the Middle East, you cross cultural lines as well as geographical ones. One of the most obvious barometres of where you are in the region is how much fun you're allowed to have on a night out.

    So far this journey has taken me from the tip of Iran, where the country's cowed (but monied) liberal elites tried to have as much fun as they could, heading offshore to have listen to live music and chastely shimmy in their seats. Couples were welcome, so long as they were already married, but alcohol was strictly off limits, as everywhere in the Islamic Republic.

    The next stop was the Kurdish north of Iraq, where the Johnny Walker and Heineken flow relatively freely inside the hotels and restaurants of cities like Sulaymaniyah and Irbil. But the drink-ups were strictly same-sex affairs. Female foreign aid workers might occasionally be seen in these dens of little repute, but never an Iraqi woman. The men drink and smoke and watch channels like "Sexy Sat," but their wives and sisters aren't allowed in the door.

    Tonight I reached the southeastern corner of Turkey, also arguably the southeastern corner of what could loosely be termed the West. This is, after all, a NATO country, and what are all those guns and bombs for it not to spread "our values?"

    Exhausted after the long drive from Zakho, I nonetheless accepted an invitation to head out on the town with Yilmaz Akinci, the local correspondent for the al-Jazeera satellite television channel. He took me to Major, a live music club in the centre of Diyarbakir, where for the first time in two weeks I watched men and women dance, drink, sing, laugh and generally behave as they wished.

    If this is indeed a clash of civilizations that the world is in the middle of, it's my job as a journalist to try and understand all perspectives, and not to take sides. But between you and me, tonight at the Major, I couldn't help but smile.

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