This pattern of media ignorance followed by frenzy would repeat itself in the days and weeks following September 11, 2001, when Americans were suddenly overloaded with images of Saudi Arabians and Afghans after years of the news outlets ignoring the Middle East. The result is a woefully uneducated public, alternating between obliviousness and panic about a region critical to U.S. interests.

As Sick points out, Iran has done little to dispel its image as a land of intolerance and religious orthodoxy. Its current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made breathtakingly offensive comments about Jews, Israel, the United States, and the Western world. But, as illustrated by the hundreds of thousands of protestors who bravely took to the streets in the wake of the rigged June elections, Iran is a diverse nation, as much wrestling with itself as with the world. It is a tragedy that the American image of the country derives from a horrible but misrepresented event thirty years ago.

Jordan Michael Smith is a writer in Washington, D.C. He frequently reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor and Slate.