In a former life before all this foreign hackery, I was once an art historian.

For some years following my graduation from Glasgow School of Art I went on to teach art history at the school and to this day painting, sculpture and fine art generally remain a personal passion.

From ancient sites of antiquity to modern urban galleries whenever possible I still find myself seeking out those works of art that make the heart leap and the mind race.

This last week my two worlds' that of foreign affairs reporting and enthusiasm for art history collided, as news emerged that Islamic State (IS) terrorists were poised to overrun the world heritage site of Palmyra in Syria.

From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of this "Venice of the Sands" has stood at the crossroads of several civilisations, marrying Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.

Now however, Palmyra's colonnades, sculptures, friezes and temples stand threatened by the hammers, bulldozers and barbarism of the terrorist army that is Islamic State (IS).

Since this news broke no end of writers have made the case that something has to be done to save Palmyra from IS. But others too have raised the thorny question of whether saving priceless antiquity is as important as saving people?

Quite rightly these same observers also ask why it is that the world is suddenly sitting up and taking notice of Syria's plight because of Palmyra, while calls for intervention on a purely humanitarian basis have for years been few and far between.

Back in 2001 I remember a similar furore over the Taliban's then destruction of the great Buddhas of Bamiyan. Many years ago during the Soviet war I once spent a few nights sleeping in the caves at the foot of these monumental statues carved into a cliffside.

When the Taliban dynamited these treasures I like others around the world was appalled. Then too there were calls for intervention to stop the destruction of these irreplaceable antiquities even though the cruelty of the Taliban regime had been visible every Friday in Kabul's national stadium where people were shot, hanged or stoned to death for perceived failure to adhere to the extremists' rule of law.

The IS threat to Palmyra should not be reduced to a debate about who or what is more important, people or priceless antiquities. Of course the saving of human life should always come first. But if art is anything it is about life itself.

I have never been known to agree with Boris Johnson on anything, but he was correct when he wrote this week that what we are witnessing in Syria and Iraq today isn't a clash of civilisations, but a 'struggle between civilisation and nihilism'. Muslims and non-Muslims alike find the scarcely believable cruelty and barbarism of IS an abomination. The treasures of Palmyra like all art, is part of our common human heritage.

To care about people and art is one and the same thing.

As the great British art critic John Ruskin once said: 'Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.'