11/17/2009 04:35 PM

I worked in England for a year during my student days to pay college tuition.

It was the height of the Troubles, around 1974/75 at a time when IRA bombs appeared to be going off every few days or so.

Some of the bombings were horrific. The Guildford and Birmingham bombings took place within weeks of each other in 1974 and 25 people were killed in horrific circumstances that left Britons seething.

What happened next was almost as bad. British police rounded up the first Irish suspects they could find. All were totally innocent but they were badly beaten, evidence was manufactured, family members were rounded up and they were left to rot in prison for decades until their innocence became blindingly clear.

Years later an Oscar-nominated movie about the Guildford Four "In the Name of the Father" told their poignant story

I felt the backlash at work on the construction site. Fellow Irishmen began faking British accents in order not to be identified. Others lashed out at their own countrymen and tried to distance themselves from their own land. I just tried to keep my mouth shut.

Most British people I met were fine but there were exceptions. It was the era of the Irish joke,when comedians on television were glad to poke fun at the dumb micks as we were known, and portray them as idiotic leprechauns.

It had a nasty side on a day-to-day basis too.The feeling of being under suspicion very time I opened my mouth has stayed with me all my life. I since got to know many of the Birmingham Six and Guildford men and women who were utterly innocent and were jailed despite that. I have never forgotten their stories

It was one of the worst miscarriages in British history as police made up evidence and men and women were beaten and battered for confessions.

I think of those times when I see the attempts to paint American Muslims into the same corner as the Irish were once in England. The action of one madman in Fort Hood in Carolina has now started to taint Muslims living here. But we should think before we allow the demonization of a community that is overwhelmingly non-violent and who are entitled to the full protection of freedom of religion.

One of the most under-reported stories in the west is the significant loss of support that Al-Qaeda has experienced in Muslim countries since 9/11.

Just yesterday, The New York Times reported that entire areas of Pakistan, once under the sway of the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies, now hate them far more than the Pakistani government troops who have arrived to root them out.

Left to their own devices these extremists find it impossible to rule and win the support of the people because they are fundamentally undemocratic and never hold popular support.

Al-Qaida may already be a busted flush. The only way they can become popular is if we drive support to them by overreacting to their threat.

This is not the time for a surge of nativism in America. The corrosive effects of the aftermath of 9/11 are well documented.

I have no doubt whatever that, like the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six many of the prisoners in Guantanamo are innocent and should be released. Equally some of them are mass murderers who should never see the light of day again except from behind bars.

How to distinguish them? President Obama took an important step by clearing the way for public trials of the most infamous.

But I am not worried about them. It is the others,who will be tried in military courts or perhaps not tried at all who we must fear for. Some may be innocent, may have been tortured and yet will never have a day in court.

The Muslim world will watch and make judgements on all this. It does not seem like the American way to not try them all in open court. Yes we must fight the enemy but we must never become them.

The lesson from British over-reaction to the IRA was a legacy of corrupt cops and prejudiced judges who besmirched the very system they were sworn to uphold, all in the name of justice.

The American Constitution is perhaps the greatest document ever written. We should and must play by its rules. Try all the Guantanamo prisoners and let judge and jury have their day.