In his book, Practical Ethics, Peter Singer writes in the appendix about his experiences of being silenced in Germany. I’m going to copy and paste some of what he says because although this was 30 years ago academics are still threatened and silenced today and we should all be concerned about that.
I was invited by the Zoological Institute of the University of Zurich to give a lecture on ‘Animal Rights’. On the following day, the philosophy department had organized a colloquium for twenty-five invited philosophers, theologians, special educationalists, zoologists, and other academics to discuss the implications for both humans and animals of an ethic that would reject the view that the boundary of our species marks the moral boundary of great intrinsic significance, and holds that non-human animals have no rights.
The lecture on animal rights did not take place. Before it began, a group of disabled people in wheelchairs, who had been admitted to the flat area at the front of the lecture theater, staged a brief protest in which they said that, while it was all the same to them whether or not I lectured on the topic of animal rights, they objected to the fact that the University of Zurich had invited such a notorious advocate of euthanasia to discuss ethical issues that also concerned the disabled. At the end of this protest, when I rose to speak, a section of the audience – perhaps a quarter or a third – began to chant: “Singer ruas! Singer raus!” As I heard this chanted, in German, by people so lacking in respect for the tradition of reasoned debate that they were unwilling even to allow me to make a response to what had just been said about me, I had an overwhelming feeling that this was what it must have been like to attempt to reason against the rising tide of Nazism in the declining days of the Weimar Republic. The difference was that the chant would have been, not ‘Singer raus’, but ‘Juden raus’. An overhead projector was still functioning, and I began to write on it, to point out this parallel that I was feeling so strongly. At that point one of the protestors came up behind me and tore my glasses from my face, throwing them on the floor and breaking them.
On another occasion, he was invited to lecture at the University of Saarbrücken to discuss the ethics of euthanasia.
When I rose to speak in Saarbrücken I was greeted by a chorus of whistles and shouts from a minority of the audience determined to prevent me from speaking. Professor Meggle offered the protesters the opportunity to state why they thought I should not speak. This showed how completely they had misunderstood my position. Many obviously believe that I was politically on the far right. Another suggested that I lacked the experience with Nazism that Germans had had; he and others in the audience were taken aback when I told them that I was the child of Austrian-Jewish refugees, and that three of my grandparents had died in Nazi concentration camps.
Another chance comment revealed still a deeper ignorance about my position. One protester quoted from a passage in which I compare the capacities of intellectually disabled humans and nonhuman animals. The way in which he left the quotation hanging, as if it were in itself enough to condemn me, made me realise that he thought that I was urging that we should treat disabled humans in the way we now treat nonhuman animals. He had no idea that my views about how we should treat animals are utterly different from those conventionally accepted in Western society. When I replied that, for me, to compare a human being to a nonhuman animal was not to say that the human being should be treated with less consideration, but that the animal should be treated with more, this person asked why I did not use my talents to write about the morality of our treatment of animals, rather than about euthanasia. Naturally I replied that I had done that, and that it was, indeed, precisely for my views about the suffering of animals raised on commercial farms, and used in medical and psychological research, and the need for animal liberation that I was best known in English-speaking countries; but I could see that a large part of the audience simply did not believe that I could be known anywhere as anything other than an advocate of euthanasia.
Peter Singer also writes of the lack of support by institutions whose academics came under attack.
This highest officers of the university took no action to indicate their concern that threats of protest had forced an academic lecture to be canceled; nor did they come to the defense of one of their professors when he was under attack for inviting a colleague to give a lecture on the campus of the university. That was typical of the reaction of German professors. They were no strong reaction among them on behalf of academic freedom.