I am Muslim by birth and I find the burqa confronting. I even wish no women would wear it. Does that make me a bigot?
Tony Abbott used similar words last week when he stated that a Muslim woman should not be permitted to give evidence in a West Australian court with a burqa concealing her face.
The internet exploded with well-intentioned outrage. ''Oh yeah I find your f---ing face confronting,'' the writer and radio host Marieke Hardy said on Twitter. ''I find budgie smugglers a 'confronting form of attire' and wish 'fewer' Australians would wear it,'' the Greens staffer David Paris tweeted.
It is the natural tendency for many to leap to the defence of those they feel have been marginalised or unfairly targeted. But in this instance, their defence is problematic.
Let me be clear that I do not and will never advocate a Western-imposed ban on the burqa. Apart from consolidating Muslim women's unfair place as the primary targets of Islamophobia, the only outcome a ban would achieve would be confining them to the home.
You cannot compel people to abandon hundreds of years of culture and tradition by force. Any change to the position of women in Islam must come from within Islam. And, crucially, it must be spearheaded by Muslim women. The real trouble with the burqa-banning bandwagon is that it is obliterating any chance of a progressive female Muslim voice.
Why is the battle for Muslim women's rights being fought by non-Muslims? The defence of the burqa by Hardy, Paris and others is, more than likely, propelled by their desire not to malign Muslims. What they fail to consider is that criticism of the burqa is not necessarily an attack on Islam.
Shortly after Abbott's comments, Ameer Ali, a vice-president of the Regional Islamic Da'wah Council of South-East Asia and the Pacific, advocated for a burqa ban, calling it ''the lingering relic of a patriarchal, misogynistic and tribal culture'' and saying it has no basis in the Koran.
While many Muslims might disagree with Ali, his comments highlight that even within Islam the burqa is a contentious issue. It is precisely Muslims such as Ali who should be discussing it but Ali faces a backlash from the Muslim community because the burqa has become such an albatross around its neck that Muslims would prefer that no one mention it at all.
The pressure on Muslim women is enormous. Even moderate strains of Islam (one of which my family belongs to), are, if you happen to be a non-conformist, stiflingly oppressive by Western standards.
The honour of the entire family lies in controlling a woman's sexuality and maintaining her ''purity'' until marriage. After marriage her body is for her husband's eyes only. Enter the burqa.
Not all strands of Islam require a burqa, or even a hijab. But they all do insist on modesty. Hence, the burqa itself is simply the symptom of a much greater ailment and that ailment is, as Ali indicated, a patriarchy that still places the destiny of a woman in the hands of her male relatives.
Many Muslim girls growing up in Australia are finding themselves caught in an impossible conundrum. Do they adopt a liberal outlook on life and ruin the reputations of their family, thus risking almost certain ostracism from their entire family circle? Or do they go along with these traditions that have existed seemingly for eternity, denying their own autonomy in the process?
By framing the issue of the burqa as nothing more than a ''woman's choice'' and denying the history of the burqa as a patriarchal tool, we are running the risk of alienating those Muslim women who seek to break free of the constraints of their culture, as well as abandoning those women who are physically forced to wear it.
Likewise, by decrying all criticism of the burqa as bigoted, we are actually consolidating its previously tenuous position within mainstream Islam in Australia, and thus hindering the religion's progression in this country.
When even the so-called permissive West is staunchly defending an article of clothing whose primary function is to deny the sexual autonomy of a human being based on nothing other than her gender, what recourse does a lone Muslim woman have to stand against it?
Undoubtedly there are many Muslim women who really do believe God wants them wear the burqa and no doubt they wear it with pride. Perhaps they are the lucky ones, never to have to make that impossible choice.
But what of the others?
Ruby Hamad is a Sydney freelance writer and filmmaker.