Even if terrorists had not attacked New York City and Washington last week, the message the Alliance for Unity presented to Utahns on Monday would have been important. But the attacks give it added emphasis. They have underlined and exposed the great need for tolerance, charity and cooperation.
Over the years, examples of hatred and bigotry in Utah have ranged from subtle insensitivities to overt hate crimes. But because feelings are particularly raw at the moment, people seem more vulnerable than ever before. Last week, a man poured gasoline on part of a Pakistani restaurant on State Street and set it on fire. Police believe it was a hate crime, possibly committed in some foolish and misguided retaliation for the indignities the nation has suffered.
Many people may have believed such problems didn't exist in Utah, but for too many others the problems are all too real.
The Alliance for Unity, the brainchild of two political opposites industrialist Jon Huntsman Sr., and Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson brought together community leaders of many faiths, ethnic backgrounds and community interests, including the editor of this newspaper. Together, they met several times and hammered out a statement of purpose that outlines their concerns and hopes for Utah.
It is a message filled with hope, and that is how it should be viewed. Utah's future is indeed a hopeful one, but only if everyone is afforded the same rights and dignities.
No tragedy or event brought the alliance together. Instead, Huntsman and Anderson felt the state, with its diverse and growing population, has troubling divisions that are keeping it from obtaining its full potential. Certainly, when compared with the racial problems some states have suffered, Utah's record of intolerance has been less dramatic. But problems exist.
The statement is not the end to a process. Rather, it is a beginning. The people who signed it represent diverse and influential segments of the community. Together, over time, they can indeed make a difference.
Here is the text of the statement, which soon will be read from the pulpits of several different denominations:
We, the undersigned, are concerned that acceptance of diversity in Utah today is not of the scope or at the level it ought to be. We ask Utahns of every background to cast a broader look at diversity and to nurture a deeper respect for our differences. It is only when we respect differences that we can be united in a healthy community.
Utah is a community rich in resources, ideas, hopes, capabilities and heritage. Our people have different political, religious and other beliefs. We seek to help build a community where differing viewpoints are acknowledged and valued. Differences need to be aired, and problems resolved, in an atmosphere of courtesy, respect and civility. What separates a healthy, diverse community from a divided one is the level of respect and understanding of our differences.
Our Alliance for Unity will seek ways to bring people together for the benefit of all. We will encourage specific projects of common purpose. Our overriding goal is to help people cross boundaries of culture, religion and ethnicity to better understand and befriend one another. This will be an ongoing and long-term endeavor.
Signed by Jon M. Huntsman, Ross C. "Rocky" Anderson and 16 other community leaders.