February 05, 2012

How Istanbul Became One of Europe's Safest Cities

Political observers have recently been trumpeting the Turkish Model, citing Turkey's democracy, its open-minded Islamists and economic zip as an example to newly liberated Arab nations and other Muslim countries.


In the 18th century, however, its capital presented a less positive model. The Istanbul of that era – with waves of migrants, an underclass of servants and unskilled laborers, overburdened housing stock, dirty slums abutting elegant mansions, high levels of petty and violent crime – looked much like Dickensian London.

"The scholarship has kind of put all cities in the Middle East in the category of 'Islamic cities,' focusing on Islamic institutions and drawing a hard-and-fast line between these cities and European cities,” says Fariba Zarinebaf, professor of Islamic studies at University of California, Riverside.

In Crime and Punishment in Istanbul, 1700-1800, Zarinebaf uses court, prison and police records, surveys, imperial orders and a variety of Ottoman narratives to map the city's criminal activity. She also highlights Istanbul's importance as a port, its layered history and its great diversity. "It was so much more diverse than any other European city," she says. "It's the most cosmopolitan city in the Mediterranean world."

Read more on The Atlantic Cities: How Istanbul Became One of Europe's Safest Cities

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