I walk alone through almost every neighborhood of Istanbul, often at night. This is a megacity of at least 12 million people, many of whom are poor and three-quarters of whom are under 35. Income distribution is gravely unequal. I am nonetheless less afraid—much less afraid—that I will be a victim of violent crime here than I am when I walk through London, Paris, or any big American city.
Istanbul’s streets don’t feel menacing. I rarely see drunks and never see crackheads, gangs of feral youths on street corners, or tattooed louts on the subways and buses. The panhandlers inspire pity, not fear. True, in some neighborhoods, the glue-sniffing street kids are dangerous; in others, hookers attract a louche clientele; pickpockets operate near the tourist attractions. But in the four years I’ve lived here, I’ve heard few firsthand stories of violent crime. The International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS), a worldwide poll of householders’ experiences with crime, confirms my impression that Istanbul is an exceptionally safe city. But perusing the ICVS data, I noticed something so odd that I mentioned it en passant to the editor of this magazine. “According to the ICVS,” I said, “Istanbul has the lowest rate of assault in Europe . . . but the highest rate of burglary, higher even than London.” I signed off with an innocent, “I wonder what this means?”
Alas, I was about to find out. Only a few weeks later, I woke up to find my front door ajar. My desk drawers and jewelry box were open and the contents of my handbag carefully laid out on a cushion. The cash in my wallet was missing. My great-grandmother’s wedding ring was gone. The burglar, who had picked my front-door lock, had taken pains to be considerate, by Western standards of burglary. He had not harmed me; he had not woken me; he had not made a mess; he had taken only the cash and the gold and left behind, thank God, my computer, bank cards, passport, and some costume jewelry to which I’m sentimentally attached. He had slipped out again as silently as he entered.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.