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Samira
Samira LarouciPhotography Laurence Tooley

Introducing the online publication documenting global Arab youth culture

We sit down with Samira Larouci, founder of Mille World, to discuss the multiplicity of what it means to grow up Arab

Mille World is a multimedia online platform spotlighting Arab youth culture, arts and fashion that launched earlier this year. In their latest short video “What is an Arab?”, a collection of Snapchat-style footage from different Arab contributors – including Lisa Bouteldja, a French-Algerian blogger and stylist, Tania Haddad, a Jordanian designer, and Lebanese illustrator Nour Flayhan – offers a small snapshot into their everyday lives. The answer to the question? There is no one answer.

Dazed sat down with Mille World founder Samira Larouci to discuss Islamophobia, the commodification of hijab, and why a platform like this is so important for young Arabs globally. 

How did Mille World come about?

Samira Larouci: A friend of mine called Sofia Guellaty was the former editor-in-chief of Style Arabia – she really wanted to make something independent in the Arab world, and was looking for young editors who were Arab or had at least lived in the Middle East.

She was put in touch with me by a friend who was like, “Oh, Samira’s Moroccan, she’s Muslim and has worked in traditional Western publications”. So we had a phone call and straight away we just got it. I wasn’t raised in a place where I had an Arab community around me, my family lived outside of London and you’d just get “othered”. When I was put in touch with her there were just those little jokey things you get about each other – something that united us and was quite beautiful actually. There was a sense of community and she was talking about wanting to create that sense of community on a bigger scale.

I often thought when I was younger that if I’m not a devout Muslim and I’m not veiled, and I’m not going and learning the Qur’an in Islamic school, then that doesn’t make me a Muslim – and if I’m in the West but I’m not Western, I’m not English. It puts you in a weird cultural limbo – but to realise suddenly that this cultural limbo is okay, as a shared experience… It was revelatory for me, and that was something I really wanted to do with this platform.

How does Mille World view itself amongst its contemporaries?

Samira Larouci: For me it’s really important that it carries itself globally rather than just in an Arab or Middle Eastern setting, because that stops you branching out. What we don’t want to do is make a niche platform that becomes only relevant to a small group of people in Dubai. That would be my worst nightmare.

I have some issues with regional publications because what you’re doing is cutting yourself off from the rest of the world and as Muslims, as Arabs, that’s what has been done to us for our whole lives… we’ve been marginalised.

(Also) it’s become like, “Oh, this Arab artist, this Muslim designer” – can’t it just be an artist who’s brilliant? Or, “People love this designer because they can actually stand in a playing field with designers from Paris and London and be on a level”, without being exoticized as being this “other”. Their ethnic background can come into it afterwards, it shouldn’t be the driving reason you would be interested. I want people to look at our culture, and not through the lens of this exoticised version of it.

Who or what does Mille World represent?

Samira Larouci: A lot of the publications that are out there are only geared towards one type of person, maybe a woman in her late 30s/early 40s who’s moneyed up to her eyeballs, is wearing a veil and is mute. That’s basically what they project, that’s the “Muslim woman” everyone knows.

Everyone sees these Arab women drifting through Harrods, spending like £150,000, and they think that’s what an Arab is. It’s an image that sells to people, it sells to brands… My family are Berbers from the mountains in Morocco. My mum got the full Berber chin tattoos when she was 13.

So when I say I’m Arab, people immediately think of Gulf Arabs so they’ll say, “You don’t seem Arab”. I’ve had this my whole life. But don’t get me wrong, I’m inherently aware of the privilege that comes with being ethnically ambiguous compared to people like my sister and relatives who are darker-skinned and carry and justify their ethnicity in hundreds of different ways everyday. All I can think is that I really want this next generation of kids to feel really proud – proud to be Muslim, proud to be Arab.

We’re constantly playing with these ideas of ethnicity and I think that’s where the name Mille World came from, in French it’s “a thousand” and we wanted to show there are a thousand different identities of being an Arab. There are all these different facets of being Muslim and Arab that are completely ignored, not to mention the fact that you can be Arab and not Muslim, you can be Arab and Jewish or Arab and agnostic – we’re basically working to dismantle these clichés and offer a real voice, an authentic voice to what it is to be young and Arab today because there’s nothing like it.

All these platforms just wanna sell us Gucci or Prada and it’s amazing and we all like it, but that shouldn’t be your identity just as a consumer – that’s not what culture is. Just because you’re Arab and live in Morocco doesn’t mean your aspiration is to go to Dubai and buy a Louis Vuitton bag, your aspiration might be to be a contemporary artist or to be a rapper – exactly the same aspirations that young people have everywhere else in the world and we want to give them that platform.

What has the response been like?

Samira Larouci: We really worship youth culture in the UK, and we have magazines like Dazed that show how youth culture is a driving force, whereas in some of those countries (in the Middle East) the platforms that exist often ignore the youth and are geared towards older people who are spending a lot of money, without tapping into the talent that you have in your country – which is young people.

They’re globalised, they have Instagram, they are tuned in, they’re looking at the same Bella Hadid posts as everyone else.

Like, Dubai has a massive skateboarding scene that we covered. They have a big streetwear scene, in Morocco they have a big football scene, Tunisia has an amazing rap scene, we did a whole thing on Palestinian rappers… so many different scenes that are parallel to what’s happening here or everywhere else, but they just go ignored.

We are some of the only ones documenting that culture on this level, so the reception there has been amazing, it’s been really interesting to me, going from launching big Western platforms where the reception is good but people weren’t thirsty for it.

When you launch something here (in the West), you’re launching something where there is 700 other versions of it – but over there it’s you and one or two other publications. You can really make a difference. Over there people really engage, you post something and people like/comment/share everything with their friends, DM us suggestions or tell us they are thankful and loved it.

Tell me more about the concept behind the “What is an Arab?” video

Samira Larouci: Since before we launched, we really wanted to create a video that dissected and redefined what it means to be an Arab today. Mostly because the Arabs we’re often shown in media aren’t the Arabs I know, or am. We're either linked to Islamophobia, oppression or this exploitative caricature of the “veiled, silenced consumer of luxury goods” – which literally only speaks to a small percentage of North Africa and the Middle East.

So rather than dictating what my interpretation of Arab identity is, I decided to reverse the narrative and give full ownership of it back to some of our readers. So we got a variety of people (from Morocco, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to Tunisia, Paris and Dubai) to document their lives as young Arabs on Insta Stories and just send us the footage.

We got this juxtaposition of kids heading to mosque on Friday and then getting twisted at a rave in Palestine on Saturday, or just getting the bus in to the High Atlas in Morocco to visit family. We wanted to show the innumerable identities, contradictions and nuances that come with being Arab today.

Where do you see Mille World going in the future?

Samira Larouci: Global! 

Visit Mille World here