When the outcome of a tragedy is known in advance, it finds ways of occurring earlier than expected. In this case, the fate of 100,000 Serbian Christians who remain in Kosovo may preempt the debate over Europe’s eventual absorption into the Muslim world.

A new book on the Islamification of Europe appears almost weekly, adding to the efforts of Ben Wattenberg, Oriana Fallaci, Bat Ye’or, George Weigel, Mark Steyn, Philip Jenkins and a host of others. Scholars debate whether the decline and fall of Europe will occur by mid-century, or might be postponed until 2100. The inconvenient Serbs may force the issue on Europe a great deal sooner.

If Serbia and Russia draw a line in the sand over the independence of Kosovo, we may observe the second occasion in history when a Muslim advance on Europe halted on Serbian soil. The first occurred in 1456, three years after the fall of Constantinople, when Sultan Mehmed II was thrown back from the walls of Belgrade, “The White City,” by Hungarian and Serb defenders. The Siege of Belgrade “decided the fate of Christendom,” wrote the then Pope Calixtus III. Not for nothing did J. R. R. Tolkien name his fictional stronghold of Minas Tirith “The White City.”

While America’s attention is riveted on Iraq, Russia is outraged at the American-backed plan for Kosovo’s independence, proposed by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Kosovo comprised the historic Serbian heartland, Christian Serbs comprise less than a tenth of the present population. Perhaps 200,000 Serbs have left the province since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) made Kosovo a protectorate in 2000.

The Bill Clinton administration, in this writer’s considered view, provoked NATO’s 1999 bombing war against Serbia with malice of forethought, as a gesture to the Muslim world. The United States in effect was willing to bomb Christians in order to protect Muslims, in this case the Albanian Kosovo majority whom it accused the Serbs of mistreating. That is precisely what the Democrats say. In a January 3 article in the Financial Times, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden contended that Kosovo independence would constitute a “victory for Muslim democracy,” and “a much-need example of US-Muslim partnership.”

Contrary to American propaganda at the time, no massacres had occurred; the Serbs had shot a few thousand Muslim militants in their efforts to pacify the province. Clinton, then secretary of state Madeleine Albright and UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke deluded themselves that they could cash in the chips earned in Kosovo at the negotiating table in the Middle East. The neo-conservatives cheered the Clinton bombing campaign, believing perhaps that any American show of force was better than no show of force.

Once again Washington’s attention is directed toward the Middle East. Washington proposes to sacrifice the remaining Christians in Kosovo in order to earn Muslim support. Serbia has earned little sympathy; its brutality against Bosnian Muslims during the 1990s left an image of Serbian barbarity etched on the mind of the Western public.

Without apologizing for past Serbian misbehavior, I believe that Serbia and Russia are correct to offer partition rather than independence for Kosovo, that is, breaking off the Christian-majority municipalities of the north and attaching them to Serbia proper, while permitting the Muslim majority to determine its own fate.

This is the obvious, humane and commonsense solution; the fact that the State Department refuses to consider it inflames Russia’s worst fears about America’s intent. To broad Russian opinion, the sacrifice of the Kosovo Serbs seems like yet another prospective humiliation, on top of the deployment of anti-missile systems on Russia’s border and the buildup of American forces in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

I cannot penetrate the cloud of confusion at Foggy Bottom (aka the State Department), but I suspect that American policy in Kosovo has nothing to do with the encirclement of Russia, and everything to do with America’s failing effort to hold together a coalition of friendly Sunni Arab states against Iran’s challenge in the Persian Gulf.

Washington does not care about Kosovo. It simply wants to put the issue to rest by the most expeditious means possible, the better to deal with its urgent business at hand. No matter that Washington’s objective is chimerical, as M K Bhadrakumar explained April 11 on this site (The chimera of Arab solidarity.)

Former ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the stage-manager of the 1999 war against Serbia, warned in the March 13 Washington Post that war would erupt if Russia attempted to “water down” the Kosovo independence plan. “The Bush administration and the public have paid too little attention to a series of Russian challenges to the stability of Europe … If [there is] a Russian veto in the Security Council, or an effort to water down or delay Ahtisaari’s plan, the fragile peace in Kosovo will evaporate within days, and a new wave of violence – possibly even another war – will erupt.”

Holbrooke added, “Moscow ‘s point about protecting fraternal Slav-Serb feelings is nonsense; everyone who has dealt with the Russians on the Balkans, as I did for several years, knows that their leadership has no feelings whatsoever for the Serbs.”

In this instance, Holbrooke is as wrong as one can be. Never mind that Russia entered World War I to defend Serbia against Austria and fought alongside Serbia against Germany in the Second World War. Sentiment is not the only issue. Russia, as I reported in Russia’s hudna with the Muslim world (Asia Times Online February 21, 2007) must face the prospect of Islamification far sooner than Western Europe.

There can be no doubt that Europe is resigned to gradual absorption into the umma. Father Richard John Neuhaus, the conservative Catholic writer, quotes an “influential French archbishop” saying, “We hope for [assimilation of Muslim immigrants], while we work at reducing immigration and prepare ourselves for soft Islamicization.” Western Europe is a beaten, deracinated rabble with no will to fight. Russia is a different sort of beast. The Kosovo question for Russia is not a sentimental, but an existential matter.

No modern people have proven a greater inconvenience than the Serbs. They threw off two foreign yokes unaided – the Ottomans during the 19th century, and the Germans during the World War II. Out of pride and pig-headedness, Serbia refused to give up the Muslim-majority province of Bosnia to Austria, and the murder of the Austrian Crown Prince Ferdinand by extremists supported by Serbian intelligence sparked World War I.

After initial reverses, Serbia marched its army and a large part of its population over the mountains in mid-winter and regrouped, eventually throwing out the Austrian and German armies, at the cost of 28% of its total population and 58% of its men.

I do not wish to glorify Serbia’s history. John Keegan in his History of the First World War argues that if Austria had crushed Serbia immediately after the murder of the heir to its throne, world war might not have been the outcome. The broader interests of humanity might have been served by smacking down the Serbs on other occasions. This is not one of them.

Serbia has had a brutal history which has made its leaders brutal, as the world observed during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. But Serbian demands in the case of Kosovo today are limited and reasonable, namely a partition that serves the interests of the small Christian minority. I do not think Russia will let Washington make a horrible example of them in order to create an example of “US-Muslim partnership.”

If Washington does not modify its support for independence, the most likely outcome is a Russian veto of the Ahtisaari plan in the UN Security Council, followed, perhaps, by a unilateral declaration of independence by the Albanian Muslim majority in Kosovo. The aftermath could be quite messy, namely a small shooting war between Christians and Muslims on European soil. “Soft Islamification,” in the words of Father Neuhaus’ French archbishop, may turn out to be no option at all.

It would be foolish to try to guess the outcome. After all, no one expected the inconvenient Serbs to become the casus belli of 1914. No one wanted the war; the generation of leaders that guided Europe in 1914 had spent a whole generation avoiding a general European war. No-one, least of all Russia, wants an open conflict with Muslims. But there are limits to what the Orthodox Christian world will tolerate, and they may have been reached in Kosovo.