For more than a dozen years i have sported a CCF-NDP licence plate on my Benz with pride and in-your-face bravado. I had become accustomed to the reactions of passersby and motorists - the middle finger far outnumbering the thumbs-up.
But this past Canada Day, I quit the NDP after nearly 17 years - a long journey that has included the trenches of electioneering, membership on the party's provincial executive and federal council, work as a political staffer in former premier Bob Rae's government and running as an NDP candidate in the 1995 provincial election.
Friends and well-wishers called to express their shock, delight, dismay and bewilderment. Why would I walk away from North America's only party of the left?
My decision was neither simple nor a rejection of social democratic principles. The seeds were planted a year ago when some well-meaning NDPers in the Ottawa area, scared by the rise of the religious right in the U.S. and Canada - and what that would mean for the NDP's political fortunes - floated the idea of a faith and social justice committee to attract religious voters. Now it appears that the NDP's religion caucus is all set to be formalized at the party's forthcoming convention in Quebec City.
Religion has a huge role to play in our society. Our imams, rabbis, pastors and pundits perform a crucial and significant function taking care of the religious and spiritual needs of their congregations.
But it seems that at this critical juncture in our history, when competing religious ideologies are forcing their way into the political mainstream and trying to re-establish themselves as the primary purveyors of good citizenship, the NDP is opening the way for fundamentalists to find a new home inside one of Canada's political parties.
One would have expected that many on the left would have no problem recognizing that Bush and bin Laden are flip sides of the same coin. But instead of confronting the misuse of faith and exposing the immorality of invoking God in a political dispute, New Democrats don't have the stomach to stand up to those who would reduce our citizenship to one based on race or religion.
I strongly feel that New Democrats, in accepting the parameters set by the religious right, have merely validated the right's divisive agenda.
One of my first acts upon landing in Montreal in November 1987 was to search through the Yellow Pages for a list of Canadian political parties. I had just arrived in Canada after suffocating for 10 years in the political barrens of Saudi Arabia. Earlier, in my native Pakistan, I had been imprisoned twice as a student leader, charged with sedition by authorities and later expelled from my job as a TV journalist after yet another military coup.
Montreal on November 6, 1987 was the first day of the rest of my life. I had no intention then of ever again living one more moment with the anxiety of religious fascists determining the political agenda. And I have no intention of doing it now.
In my view, the left in Canada, and to a certain degree in the UK, has, in the words of author Kenan Malik, "shamefully swapped secular universalism for ethnic particularism."
A week before my decision to tear up my NDP card, I interviewed Liberal leadership hopeful Bob Rae for my CTS-TV Saturday night show, The Muslim Chronicle. He talked about Afghanistan, the Middle East, the trade union movement and the NDP with ease and comfort. He said working as George Bush's junior partner is not what Canadians want.
Later, on Monday, July 3, I read Rae's op-ed piece in the Toronto Star. One section caught my eye. Rae wrote that "investing in and promoting the values of common citizenship in our schools and communities... is absolutely essential. We can't content ourselves with merely repeating old formulas when isolated pockets of our citizens somehow feel justified in plotting terror against fellow Canadians."
Here was a politician not mincing his words, and challenging the status quo around multiculturalism that has contributed to the building of sometimes prosperous ghettos and 21st-century tribes in Canada.
That morning, I bicycled to Rae's campaign office on Queen Street and signed up as a member of the Liberal party with the hope that I can in some small way help chart a future in which we celebrate what is common among us, rather than institutionalize what divides us.