Philadelphia's Burqa Crisis
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
N.B.: The Washington Times title is "When burqas become accessories to crime: Criminals can hide behind Islamic garb" and it contains small differences from this version
Philadelphia, the city where I live, has quietly and unassumedly become the capital of the Western world as regards female Islamic garb as an accessory to crime.
By my count, the Philadelphia region has witnessed 14 robberies (or attempted robberies) in the past six years in which the thieves relied on an Islamic full-body cover. They took place in January 2007, June 2007, May 2008, November 2009, October 2010 (two), February 2011, June 2011, December 2011, January 2012, March 2012 (two), and April 2012 (two). The most violent attack took place on May 3, 2008, when Police Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski was killed with an AK-47 in a shoot-out following a successful robbery using burqas; the police then killed one of the criminals.
As the Middle East Forum's David J. Rusin points out in his detailed survey of Philadelphia burqa crimes, Muslim garb holds two great advantages over other forms of disguise: First, many full-body covered women walk the streets without criminal intent, thereby inadvertently providing cover for thieves; the more full-body coverings around, the more likely that these will facilitate criminal activity. Second, the very strangeness and aloofness of these garments affords their wearers, including criminals, an extraordinary degree of protection. As in other cases (three purchases of alcohol in Toronto state liquor stores by a 14-year-old boy in a burqa; Muslim women not checked at Canadian airports), clerks so fear being accused of racism or "Islamophobia" that they skip state-mandated procedures, such as requiring niqabis to show their faces and establish their identities.
But as banks become harder targets, Islamic garb presents a more general danger to soft targets. For example, in the Philadelphia area, assailants donned Islamic garb to rob a real estate office in 2008 and commit murder at a barber shop in 2012.
Not fatal but equally horrific, was the Jan. 14-15 abduction and rape of a 5-year-old child in Philadelphia. A niqabi signed Nailla Robinson out from the Bryant Elementary School pretending to be her mother taking her to breakfast. Investigators believe the two walked a few blocks to where a man awaited them. Nailla then disappeared for nearly a day and was only found the next morning shivering half-naked in a park by a passerby. Last week, the police arrested Christina Regusters, 19, an daycare center employee with prior contact with Nailla. The fourteen charges against her include kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, and criminal conspiracy.
This survey of Philadelphia's crisis prompts several reflections: First, almost any Western city at any time could have Philadelphia's problems. Second, this is deadly serious issue, involving violent robberies, rapes, and murders. Third, as full-body Islamic covers spread, criminals increasingly depend on them. Fourth, government workers need to surmount their timidity and apply normal procedures even to those wearing full-body covers, even in liquor shops, airports, and elementary schools. Finally, this problem has an obvious solution: ban the niqab and burqa in public places, as the national governments in France and Belgium have recently done.
Jan. 2, 2014 update: Now 15 robberies in 7 years: Two teenagers, 15 and 17, dressed in burqas, pulled a gun on Joe Galiano in his store, Suburban Armory, a gun shop outside of Philadelphia. Galiano, who carries.45-caliber pistol on his hip, fired at the would-be robbers, prompting them to flee the store. As the Philadelphia Inquirer account puts it, "One hopped onto a SEPTA bus and tried unsuccessfully to hide in the back, the other was apprehended behind a trolley stop. Muslim clothing and other evidence was found between the scene and the trolley stop. … Charges pending include robbery, possession of an instrument of crime and drug possession."
Jan. 23, 2014 update: 16 incidents in 7 years: Police in Camden (across the Delaware River from Philadelphia) are searching for two black males, 5'10" to 6'0" who dressed in niqabs on Jan. 21, entered the Zoujati Salon, brandished a weapon, abducted a lone female employee, forced her into a large trash can inside the store, covered it and moved it outside to the (cold) sidewalk, then fled in a stolen Chevrolet Express 1500 cargo van to Philadelphia.
July 8, 2014 update: 17 incidents in 7 years: Two men, thin black males about 20 years old and over 6 feet tall, one of them dressed in Muslim-like covering outfit, robbed a Family Dollar store at 1925 W. Allegheny Ave. in the Glenwood area of North Philadelphia around 9 p.m. on July 6. They at first pretended to shop when the one in Muslim clothing, according to Philly.com,
Aug. 7, 2014 update: 18 incidents in 7 years: The Philadelphia Policy Department reports a robbery yesterday at a Wells Fargo Bank in the city's Oxford Circle section; a man "approached the teller with a threatening demand note. After a failed attempt at obtaining money the suspect fled the bank on foot and was last seen east on Magee Avenue. No injuries reported. Suspect Description: Black male, 5'6″, thin build, wearing Muslim Garb."
Aug. 8, 2014 update: Joel Mathis replies to this article today at "Philadelphia Has a Burqa Crisis?" in Philadelphia Magazine.
Aug. 11, 2014 update: I reply to Mathis at Philadelphia Magazine; and my text (with links, which the magazine did not include) follows here:
Reader comments (115) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes