THE BLOG
21/09/2015 07:59 BST | Updated 21/09/2016 06:12 BST

ISIS, Russia, and the Rejection of the West

So, mercifully, the latest glossy video released by ISIS does not show innocent people being executed, or cultural treasures of the world being destroyed by thugs. For once, the high production values gives some hope that those at the top of ISIS are moving out of the teenage phase of blood-lust and wanting to play a new game that is basically good news (well, it could hardly get any worse). The new game is for adults only. It is called Government.

So, mercifully, the latest glossy video released by ISIS does not show innocent people being executed, or cultural treasures of the world being destroyed by thugs. For once, the high production values gives some hope that those at the top of ISIS are moving out of the teenage phase of blood-lust and wanting to play a new game that is basically good news (well, it could hardly get any worse). The new game is for adults only. It is called Government.

As if following a manual on how to build a state, attention has turned to having the right kit and the right trappings to be taken seriously. First up, as so often happens, is making your own money.

Numismatists set great store by the importance of money looks like: every time we put our hands in our pockets to pay for a loaf of bread, pint of milk or (let's say) a copy of my Silk Roads book, we affirm our allegiance to the queen, and participate - willingly or otherwise - in the political economy and the social order that binds us into a state. We have different views, different beliefs, different accents, but we all use the same currency (And that, of course, is one reason why UKIP and anti-Europeans attach so much importance to the pound).

And so ISIS have turned their attention to making their own coins; it tells us much about who they think they are and who they want to be.

First is a return to a heavily mythologised past, a return to the era when the Prophet Muhammad lived. As a result, there are three currency denominations, as there were in Late Antiquity - gold, silver and bronze/copper. This is not enormously practical, especially given a gold coin is worth around $140 - not the most practical thing to pull out when you're trying to do some shopping - but it talks to a reversion to a world which was supposedly idyllic. The aim of the new currency, the narrator loftily proclaims, is to 'cleanse the earth of the stain of corruption that has marked it'. Simple, right ?

It is the second aim, though, that we should pay more attention to. It is time, the narrator states, to break the 'American capitalist system of financial slavery.' I think it is only fair to say that the chances of the new coinage in ISIS controlled territory snapping America's 'Achilles heel' is something of a long shot.

What caught my eye, however, was an almost parallel declaration in Moscow that said something very similar. It is time, said the Kremlin to get rid of the dollar and the euro. It would be much better, the proposal sets out, for the creation of a single financial market between Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

And the vision goes beyond former USSR territories, In a clear trial run for something more ambitious, Russia has just signed a huge currency swap of the rouble for equivalent Chinese yüan, that seeks to insulate both from the international currency markets.

The key question here is what lies behind the antagonisms towards and deep mistrust of the west and what underpins the growing attempts to form states, bonds and alliances that do not just aim to rival western institutions, but to cut out them out altogether. There are reasons for the deliberate shift away from what the the idealised forms of behaviour which we believe all other countries, peoples and cultures should follow.

That is one of the areas I look at in my new book on The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. If we do not understand - or even try to understand - the history of people who do not live in our own little goldfish bowl, and worse, and do not recognise that others perhaps see our past in a very different way to how we see it ourselves, then we run the risk of reacting on the basis of emotion, rather than of reason. As the axis on which the world spins begins to shift, it is more important now than ever to lift the veil of ignorance, and perhaps even to face some painful home truths about why levels of resentment and attempted rejection are rising.

The video is entitled 'The Rise of the Caliphate (Khalifah) and the Return of the Gold Dinar'. The project as two aims; one perhaps easier to guess than the other.