I stopped by a luncheon here to listen to a guest who, since the last Ideas fest, got a brutal reminder of what happens when idealism meets religion and politics. He was Feisel Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Cordoba Initiative, who went through the ringer in 2010 when his hopes to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero gave us the "Ground Zero mega-mosque" frenzy. (Rauf cheekily used that term to refer to the controversy.)

"Wherever I go in the Muslim world," he said, "it's the first question people want to ask me." In the Arab world, he said, people were dazzled by the story. "When President Obama gave speech on Ramadan, the banner headline in the Egyptian Gazette was" Obama supports GZ Mosque. The narrative, in some important ways, gave [America] a boost."

That word, "narrative," seemed to come up in Rauf's every other sentence. Many of America's problems with the Muslim world could be solved with a narrative shift. "if Christians were to regard Muslims as Unitarians with an Arabic liturgy," he said, quoting himself tongue-in-cheekly, "perhaps we'd get over some of this." And "we need films to show Muslims in a positive light. I've commissioned three scripts."

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