When it comes to using female Islamic garb as an accessory to crime, Philadelphia, the city where I live, has quietly, unassumedly, become the capital of the Western world.
First, a tutorial on Islamic coverings, all of which tend to be called veils in English, but which fall into three main categories. Some (the abaya, hijab, chador, jilbab or khimar) cover parts of the body, especially the hair, but reveal the face and identity of the woman; some cover the face (the yashmak) but show the body shape; and some hide everything, including the identity and gender of the wearer. The latter — our topic here — is best described as a full-body cover: it in turn has two types, those that cover the person entirely (the chadari or burqa) or those with a slit for the eyes (the haik or niqab).
By my count, the Philadelphia region has had 15 robberies (or attempted robberies) of financial institutions in the past six years in which the thieves relied on an Islamic full-body cover. These took place in January 2007, June 2007, May 2008 (two), October 2009 (two), November 2009, February 2011, June 2011, December 2011, January 2012, March 2012 (two) and April 2012 (two). The most violent one took place on May 3, 2008, when Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski was killed in a shootout following a robbery by perpetrators wearing burqas. One of the criminals also died in the exchange.
As David J. Rusin points out in his detailed survey of these crimes, Muslim garb holds two great advantages over other forms of disguise. First, plenty of covered women walk the streets of Philadelphia without criminal intent, thereby providing cover for thieves; the more head coverings around, the more likely it is…