Many Syrians view the United States as a dangerous place. Their impressions are shaped by friends and family members who go to live and work there, and by Hollywood. Most Americans consider places like Syria dangerous.
There are no official crime statistics for Damascus, but when Syrians tell me that crime is rare, I believe them. At a security briefing at the U.S. embassy, we were told that no part of Damascus is considered dangerous for Americans, day or night.
Yesterday evening, I discussed crime with my Arabic tutor. I meet him at his home in a poor area, high on the side of the mountain above the central shopping and business districts. He said he had never heard of a robbery, by knife, gun or any other means, in his neighborhood. Is it true, he asked me, that America is as dangerous as they say. My good friend lives in Chicago, he said, and tells me that when he leaves his house, he never knows if he'll come back alive. Is it true? Well, not exactly. Depends on the area.
According to an article in today's Washington Post, an average of 11 robberies occur every day in the nation's capital, concentrated in some of the wealthiest areas. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/12/AR2006101201813.html?nav=hcmodule)
The only crimes reported over the past several years to the U.S. embassy by American citizens in Damascus, a city many times larger than Washington, have been pickpocketings in the crowded market called Souq al-Hamadiyyeh. And even then, an embassy official said, those reports are rare.