Over the past month, the press in predominantly Muslim countries was abuzz that President Barack Obama was scheduled to attend the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Forum during his recent visit to Turkey. The AoC is an attempt by the U.N. to quell perceived tensions between Muslim and Western nations by promoting “dialogue” – an interesting word choice for what is, in effect, a one way conversation.

The base document for the Alliance of Civilizations focuses on the supposed failings of Western countries while largely ignoring the faults of Muslim nations. For instance, little attention is paid by the AoC to overcome serious discrimination against and intolerance of Judaism, Christianity and minority Muslim sects in predominantly Muslim countries. As noted in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal,

… the experience of Arab Christians living now amid majority Islamic populations is often repression, arrest, imprisonment and death. Coptic Christians in Egypt have been singled out for discrimination and persecution. Muslim rioters often burn or vandalize their churches and shops…. In 1995, the Saudis were allowed to build a mosque in Rome near the Vatican, but never reciprocated with a Christian church in their country. Saudi Arabia even forbids private worship at home for some one million

The AoC also endorses the idea of constraining freedom of media, speech, and expression in order to combat “Islamophobia.” This is an agenda similar to the effort by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in the Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly to prohibit “defamation of religion” by establishing an international ban on any speech or means of expression that could be seen to insult, criticize, offend, or disparage a person’s religion. The U.S. has rightly opposed the defamation of religions effort.

Rather than attending a U.N. talkfest designed to constrain freedom of speech, perhaps President Obama could spend his time in the region more constructively.

And maybe “conservative commentators” did persuade the President not to go. Or did they? It’s hard to say. Some media sources indicate that the President did not attend, others indicate that he did, still others indicate that he did not attend but did meet with foreign dignitaries on “margins of tonight’s Alliance of Civilizations dinner.” To clear things up, we contacted the White House scheduling office several times, but was told that they did not know. The White House media office did not answer our query. The AoC office in New York refused to confirm his attendance on the record.

What harm could be done by confirming or denying the President’s attendance at the AoC? Perhaps he did not want to be associated with the forum? Or with some of the attendees? Whatever the reason, it is not a shining moment for the “most transparent administration in history”.