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Crossing Continents Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Growing up in Gaddafi's Libya
Schoolgirls from Revolution Girls School - Amira, Reem and Rima
Amira, Reem and Rima insist that Libya wants peace

Crossing Continents meets Libyan schoolchildren, who long to be accepted by the international community, but are surrounded by reminders of a sinister past.

"People think we are like cavemen," states Amira boldly.

Her comment is met with horrified gasps from her school friends but her teacher urges her on.

"It's true," she whispers, "they do."

Amira is a 17-year-old pupil at the Revolution Girls School in Tripoli and she is desperate to change the world's image of her and her home country of Libya.

For most people in Britain, Libya is synonymous with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his history of supporting militant groups around the world.

We are like any teenager in the UK... We are all the same

Amira

The accepted Western wisdom is that this is a dictatorship with a lack of freedom and a bad record on human rights.

So it is surprising to hear that Amira enjoys watching US talk show Larry King Live.

Her 16-year-old friend Rima lives for the latest Hollywood movies: "I like Antonio Banderas - and Mel Gibson is my favourite.

"I watch the Cartoon Network. And we get BBC World and Discovery Channel."

Satellite television is widespread here, and it is fairly cheap to use one of the many internet cafes where you can look up anything you want on the web.

Open in new window : Picture gallery
Everyday life in Colonel Gaddafi's Libya

Military matters

Military teacher at Revolution Girls School
Some lessons have a military emphasis

"We are like any teenager in the UK," says Amira who even admits to listening to Britney Spears. "We are all the same."

That seems fair enough until you notice that all these girls are wearing military uniform to school.

They say they think their combat gear is cool.

And the number of stripes they have on their shoulders tells you what year they are in.

Each week they have a lesson in military matters, from military law to how to hold a gun, with some basic practice thrown in.

But even this is not as sinister as it sounds, according to the girls.

They say it is something that is useful to learn, a subject like any other.

Images of aggression

Their innocence is supported by a picture of a nuclear missile coated in pink sequins which hangs in the military teacher's office.

Then there are the nasty-looking political cartoons all over the walls in the school's entrance hall.

Children in class
An army backdrop for students in class

Skeletons, ghouls and Uncle Sams with a few British bulldogs thrown in.

But the girls stand in front of them cheerfully telling us what they are all about.

There is a cartoon of an enormous missile with Uncle Sam sitting astride it and an Arabic inscription saying: "America is the leader of international terrorism".

Another picture shows two chickens. One of them has an American flag and one a British flag. Both chickens are laying eggs and out of the eggs come Jewish people.

Despite the aggressive images, the girls are quick to tell us that Libya wants peace.

Lockerbie

In recent times the country has been isolated from the rest of the world.

In particular, Libya was accused of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.

The explosion over the Scottish town of Lockerbie killed 270 people.

But now Libya wants to be rehabilitated.

It has offered to accept "civil responsibility" for the attack and to make payments to families of the victims.

And these schoolgirls are also eager to improve Libya's image. So how are they going to change years of negative publicity?

"We want to charm you," says a 17-year-old called Reem.

Amira eagerly adds: "I'm going to write computer programs to show people in every country in the world what we are really like."

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 1 May, 2003 at 1100 BST.

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03 Mar 03 | Country profiles
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
24 Apr 03 | Crossing Continents
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