In a piece for USA Today on August 2, Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor and CNN blogger, laments the burqa bans being debated in Europe and mocks those who harbor concerns — hilariously unfounded in his view — about the "possibility of cross-dressing criminals concealed behind burqas starting a spate of bank robberies from London to Rome." "To paraphrase The Shadow," he writes, "who knows what evil lurks behind the jihab?"

"Possibility"? Besides failing to enlighten readers about what a "jihab" is, Prothero blissfully ignores the litany of terrorist attacks and mundane crimes, including many "from London to Rome," carried out by men in face-covering Islamic veils and compiled by Daniel Pipes. More unfortunate for Prothero's article, two stories appeared soon after to underscore the security threat of burqas and niqabs — and to demonstrate the danger right here in the U.S.

First, on August 10, a robbery took place at a bank in Silver Spring, Maryland, with the suspect reportedly disguising himself in Islamic garb:

Police said the man who robbed a TD Bank branch on Briggs Chaney Road about 4:20 p.m. Tuesday was wearing a "long black burqa over his face."

Second, the 2008 slaying of Philadelphia Police Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski has been back in the news; the officer was shot following a bank holdup in which multiple Muslim perpetrators, one of whom was subsequently killed, had "donned Muslim women's clothes — a hijab covering their heads; long dresses, called an abaya; and face veils." What stands out in Judge Renee Hughes' sentencing of the two surviving assailants, both found guilty of first-degree murder and handed life terms, are her blunt comments for Eric Floyd, whom she labeled a "coward":

You chose to disrespect the faith you claim to uphold. … People in Philadelphia cross the street to avoid Muslim women because of you.

A 2009 article on prison conversions illuminates how criminals employ Islamic dress to their advantage. The picture painted of Liczbinski's killers is chilling:

To Western eyes, two of them became hijabi — Muslim women who cover themselves — by pulling on full-length black burqas. They became, in a sense, invisible. The bank sat inside a busy supermarket, where shoppers would surely notice the two monoliths moving among them; but just as surely, those shoppers would pass by with eyes cast down, or aside, or beyond. They may be drawn for a moment by the sheer otherness of the hijabi, but would dependably look away with a twinge of awkward guilt for having noticed.

Far from mere straw men useful for illustrating alleged Western intolerance, "cross-dressing criminals" are all too real. And this is why so many want to "ban from public places these hideous, unhealthy, socially divisive, terrorist-enabling, and criminal-friendly garments."

January 21, 2011, Update: A new Islamist Watch blog post surveys recent burqa banditry in the U.S. and finds that TD Bank appears to be preferentially targeted.