Parisian banlieues such as Clichy-sous-Bois, Bondy and Corbeil-Essonnes have known their fair share of notoriety in the last decade. Second- and third-generation immigrants in these suburban communities often lack access to job opportunities and suffer from staggering youth unemployment rates. Often cited as a major failure of the French welfare state, the neglected banlieues were made infamous by the 2005 riots.
The suburban ghettos are now receiving a different kind of attention. In fact, since the events of September 11, 2001, the United States has been courting French nationals of North African and Pakistani descent in targeted actions to improve the USA’s overseas reputation. More recently, Qatar has invested €50 million in a fund specifically directed towards residents of the Parisian banlieues. The fund is intended to support neighborhood associations, youth football leagues and local mosques. It will also allow residents to secure loans for business projects and other proposals.
Critics from both left and right, however, are not happy about these international bids for the loyalty of French Muslims. As journalist Ivan Rioufol wrote in a blog post for Le Figaro, “France needs no lessons from the United States, nor the Council of Europe, and still less from Qatar, on how to run our suburbs or deal with political Islam. You can criticize the policy, but it’s our problem.” French problem or not, with banlieue residents actively looking abroad for assistance, the influence of foreign governments’ “soft power” is taking root in extremely fertile soil. For neglected French second- and third-generation immigrants, securing a bank loan is a more immediate problem than debating muddy foreign investments.