The Committee to Protect Journalists has presented a list of the ten "most censored" countries. According to the CPJ, "The list is based on research into the use of tactics ranging from imprisonment and repressive laws to harassment of journalists and restrictions on Internet access." By their standard the "most censored" if not most repressive regime on Earth is not North Korea, not Iran, and not even Saudi Arabia -- though all make the top ten -- but the little nation of Eritrea on the Horn of Africa. Defining censorship in part negatively by lack of access to information, CPJ notes that Eritrea trails the world in Internet access and ranks at the bottom in cellphone ownership. As for sins of commission, Eritrea is "Africa's worst jailer of journalists," typically holding would-be whistleblowers without trial. Overall, Eritrea boasts "a media climate so oppressive that even reporters for state-run news outlets live in constant fear of arrest." The country has suffered under Isaias Aferwerki's authoritarian rule since 1993, but things have only gotten worse after the "Arab Spring" raised alarms in a country in which Muslims form a third of the population.
Let all this sink in. An organization whose standards must be impeccably liberal says that Eritrea is worse even than North Korea. Surely such a country is an enemy of the United States to the extent that it's an enemy of freedom. And the truth is, we and they don't get on that well. We don't have an ambassador there and the country is under UN sanctions for sponsoring subversive groups in neighboring Ethiopia. For what it's worth, the U.S. rooted for Eritrea during its struggle for independence from a Marxist Ethiopian regime in the waning days of the Cold War, and if you look hard enough you'll probably find propaganda portraying the Eritreans as liberty-loving Founding-Father types, since why else would you fight against Commies? But since independence the U.S. has been neither overly friendly nor overly hostile toward Eritrea. Right now, the diplomatic community is debating whether to improve ties with the country to take advantage of its strategic position in an area rife with Islamist violence. Some observers would rather see regime change first, preferably from natural causes, while all want Eritrea to stop trying to destabilize Ethiopia, a more established ally against Islamism. Ethiopia seems to loom in the Eritrean strategic imagination the way India does for Pakistan, making its potential role as a force for stability and against terrorism problematic. In any event, apart from its alleged mischief in Ethiopia Eritrea is not seen as the enemy and does not appear to support terrorism against the West.
What's the point of this lecture? The point is that Americans should expect Eritrea to be our enemy if it's as hostile to freedom as its ranking by CPJ suggests. They should expect that because whenever any such country proves to be an antagonist, Americans are told that it's because the country in question is an enemy of freedom. Whether they're driven by ideology, religion or irrational national pride, they come into conflict with the U.S. presumably because their foreign policies are driven by hostility to liberty. Even when a country like Saudi Arabia (No. 3 on the CPJ list) is treated as an ally by the U.S. government, the country is widely distrusted among the grassroots because of its perceived hostility to our values. Many Americans seem to have convinced themselves that authoritarianism of any sort inspires hostility toward the United States, since the authoritarian ruler sees our "universal" values as a threat to his power or his values. So when the arguably most authoritarian regime on Earth -- there are other standards for judging than the CPJ's -- proves not to be an inherent enemy of the U.S., if not much of a friend either, that fact ought to raise doubts when the U.S. government or media tell us that some other country opposes us because its system of government is somehow inimical to our values. If the U.S. has a conflict with an authoritarian or totalitarian state -- depending on how you define these terms or if you take them seriously at all -- our first assumption ought to be that it's a clash of interests rather than a clash of cultures or values. The moral isn't to assume that these countries aren't or can't be our enemies, but that enmity results from something other than what our leaders want you to think.