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Show of faith in race relations

Further education is once again being asked to come to the rescue of the Government's attempts to improve community cohesion.

This time, as we report on our front page, it is the threat of terrorism which is on the minds of ministers as they enlist the help of the country's colleges.

Whether the extremist literature which may or may not be changing hands in colleges is a self-perpetuating process, or merely the logical consequence of heightened sensitivities in the wake of the conflict in Iraq, is hard to poinpoint.

However unforgivable it may be to use the threat of violence to further a political objective, the willingness of people to do so is almost always a reaction to larger events beyond their control.

The Association of Colleges has risen to the challenge by contributing to a thoughtful document that attempts to square the principle of inclusion with the need for FE to provide a safe environment which protects vulnerable teenagers from being recruited for violence.

Colleges already make a significant difference to community relations. Simply by bringing people of different faiths together in a learning environment, they create a sense of common purpose between community groups whose social networks outside may be less integrated.

To some extent ministers are preaching to the converted when they attempt to recruit colleges to the cause of community cohesion. The AoC already has a strong record on this.

The question is not whether colleges can patch up the tensions in our communities but whether the Government is willing to examine its own adventures, particularly in Iraq, and take responsibility for the some of the ill-feeling it may have caused among British muslims.

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