BONDY, France — The residents of this poor, multiracial Paris suburb say they have been abandoned. For 30 years, they say, the French authorities have written off Bondy and neighborhoods like it, treating their inhabitants as terminal delinquents and ignoring their potential.
This, residents note, is not the approach taken by the United States Department of State. “We’re waiting for the president of the Republic, for his ministers,” said Gilbert Roger, the mayor of Bondy. “And we see the ambassador of the United States.”
The United States Embassy in Paris has formed a network of partnerships with local governments, advocacy groups, entrepreneurs, students and cultural leaders in the troubled immigrant enclaves outside France’s major cities. Begun in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks as part of an effort to bolster the image of the United States within Muslim communities across the globe, American outreach in these hard neighborhoods — often referred to collectively as the “banlieues,” or suburbs — has grown in scale and visibility since the election of Barack Obama.
France is home to five million to six million Muslims, Europe’s largest Muslim population, and the banlieues have long been considered potential incubators for religious extremism. But anti-American sentiment, once pervasive in these neighborhoods, seems to have been all but erased since the election of Mr. Obama, who has proved to be a powerful symbol of hope here and a powerful diplomatic tool.
Much of the embassy’s outreach is meant to dispel “mistruths” about the United States, the ambassador, Charles H. Rivkin, said in an interview, adding, “It’s easier to hate something you don’t understand.”
With an annual public affairs budget of about $3 million, the Paris embassy has sponsored urban renewal projects, music festivals and conferences. Since Mr. Obama’s election, the Americans have helped organize seminars for minority politicians, coaching them in electoral strategy, fund-raising and communications. The International Visitor Leadership Program, which sends 20 to 30 promising French entrepreneurs and politicians to America for several weeks each year, now includes more minority participants, and Muslims in particular. The embassy began a similar program for French teenagers.
Mr. Rivkin, 48, an entertainment executive and the youngest American ambassador to France in nearly 60 years, has taken a strong personal interest in the banlieues. Earlier this year, he thrilled a group of students in Bondy when he arrived with the actor Samuel L. Jackson, one of several entertainment industry contacts he has called upon in France. In Los Angeles, Mr. Rivkin cultivated ties between the family media and hip-hop worlds; in Paris, he has hosted local rappers at the Hôtel Rothschild, his official residence.
Officials insist the outreach is not meant solely to curry favor for the United States; the Americans also see an emerging group of political and business elites in these neighborhoods. The embassy is “trying to connect with the next generation of leaders in France,” Mr. Rivkin said. “That includes the banlieues.”
Few French leaders speak in such hopeful terms.
Residents “have the sense that the United States looks upon our areas with much more deference and respect,” said Mr. Roger, the Bondy mayor. For electoral reasons, he said, French politicians exaggerate the violence and criminality here.
Though often criticized as not serious about stemming the violence, poverty and unemployment that plague the banlieues, the French government commits $5 billion annually to these cities, according to Fadela Amara, the secretary of state for urban policy. Since 2003, she said, the state has pledged more than $16 billion to a nationwide urban reconstruction program.
Residents and local politicians say this is nowhere near enough, though they add that money alone will not solve the problems.
“Do you know what it means to give recognition in the suburbs?” asked Aziz Senni, 34, the founder of a taxi service and an investment fund dedicated to spurring economic development in the banlieues, where he was raised. “It’s worth as much as gold.”
A Moroccan-born Muslim, Mr. Senni traveled to the United States in 2006 as a participant in the visitor program. He was effusive in his praise for the outreach and the optimism it has spread. “Never has France had this type of approach,” he said. Mr. Senni spoke of feeling “stigmatized” by French leaders. A law banning the full facial veil, a government-led “debate on national identity” and a recent proposal to revoke French nationality from certain criminals “of foreign origin” have been widely felt as attacks on immigrants and Muslims here.
“The emerging elite in the suburbs doesn’t see itself in the way it’s being treated by French society,” said Nordine Nabili, 43, who directs the new Bondy branch of a journalism school, E.S.J. Lille; he hosted Mr. Rivkin and Mr. Jackson there in April.
“You’re the future,” Mr. Jackson told the students.
Mr. Nabili said, “I don’t think people tell them that enough.” But he worries that the Americans may be raising hopes too high. Beyond good feelings, he said, “there really needs to be a true policy.”
Mr. Rivkin called such concerns unfounded. “From my vantage point, this embassy has not been peddling false dreams,” he said. “Anything is possible, if you put your mind to it and work hard enough.”
Widad Ketfi, 25, was among the students who met Mr. Rivkin and Mr. Jackson earlier this year. “We won’t be disappointed,” she insisted. The American attention is proof that “these young people are succeeding,” and that “we’re not invisible,” she said.